LONDON — He admitted that he and his colleagues hacked into people's phones and paid police officers for tips. He confessed to lurking in unmarked vans outside people's houses, stealing confidential documents, rifling through celebrity garbage cans and pretending that he was not a journalist pursuing a story but "Brad the teenage rent boy," propositioning a priest.
After Paul McMullan, a former deputy features editor at Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid, had finished his brazen remarks at a judicial inquiry Tuesday, it was hard for observers to think of any dubious news-gathering technique he had not confessed to, short of pistol-whipping sources for information.
Nor were the practices he described limited to a select few, McMullan said in an afternoon of testimony at the Leveson Inquiry, which is investigating media ethics in Britain in the wake of the summer's phone-hacking scandal. On the contrary, he said, News of the World's underlings were encouraged by their circulation-obsessed bosses to use any means necessary to get material.
"We did all these things for our editors, for Rebekah Brooks and for Andy Coulson," McMullan said, referring to two former News of the World editors who, he said, "should have had the strength of conviction to say, 'Yes, sometimes you have to stray into black or gray illegal areas.' "
Coulson, who resigned from his job as chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron in January, and Brooks, who resigned in July from her job as chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of the Murdoch empire, have both been arrested on suspicion of phone hacking, or illegally intercepting voice-mail messages. Brooks is also suspected of making illegal payments to police.
Both have repeatedly denied the allegations, and neither has yet been charged.
Nothing that McMullan said was particularly surprising to anyone who followed the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed News International and its parent, News Corp., over the summer. But perhaps what was startling was that McMullan, who left his job in 2001, eagerly confessed to so much and maintained that none of it was wrong.
"Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool, given the sacrifices we make, if all we're trying to do is get to the truth," said McMullan, who now owns a pub and does occasional freelance work.