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Former Times head of legal Alastair Brett to face hearing for misleading court

The former head of legal for The Times newspaper, Alastair Brett, will appear before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) tomorrow (5 December) to face allegations that he allowed a court to be misled over the unveiling of anonymous Nightjack police blogger and Lancashire detective, Richard Horton in 2009.

Last year the Leveson inquiry into press standards heard from former Macfarlanes litigator Brett that, during an injunction brought by Horton to prevent The Times from revealing his identity, high court judge Mr Justice Eady was not informed that Horton’s identity had originally been discovered as a result of hacking his email.

Horton, whose award-winning blog was based on front line police work and used confidential police information, was discovered by The Times journalist Patrick Foster, who hacked into his email account but later discovered that Horton’s identity could be pieced together from information in the public domain.

In his evidence to Lord Justice Leveson, Brett claimed that the Times believed it was in the public interest to reveal Horton’s identity as he was committing an offence by revealing police secrets. Brett also said that he made it clear that the story was ‘dead in the water’ and unpublishable until Foster found a legal way to prove his identity.

However, prior to the injunction he had avoided questions from Horton’s solicitors Olswang as to whether their client’s email had been hacked and the court, which denied Horton’s application, was never made aware of the hacking. In his evidence to Lord Justice Leveson, Brett claimed that Olswang were ‘engaged in the common litigation practice of trying to pull the focus into an irrelevant area which they believed was embarrassing and prejudicial for us.’

Brett, who left the Times in 2010 and now works for high profile mediation group Early Resolution, faces allegations by the SRA that he failed to act with integrity and ‘knowingly allowed the court to be misled in the conduct of litigation’, according to a SRA prosecution decision published on 26 February. Doughty Street Chambers’ Sue Sleeman will represent Brett before the SDT on Thursday.

The prosecution follows a successful claim in October 2012 against the News International paper in which Horton, advised by Taylor Hampton’s Mark Lewis, was awarded £42,500 in damages.

However, as stated on the SRA’s website, their decision to prosecute does not mean the allegations are proven.

To read Brett’s full statement to the Leveson inquiry click here

For more on Leveson and press regulation, see Shock and Flaw – is Leveson workable?