Now, it is alleged the News of the World’s then senior executive editor, Alex Marunchak, hired two former police detectives in 2006 to examine e-mails sent by Mr Hurst, known up to now only by his pseudonym, Martin Ingram.
In last night’s programme Mr Hurst was seen interviewing the computer expert allegedly hired by the former detectives, in which the hacker admitted he placed a so-called Trojan virus on Mr Hurst’s computer’s hard-drive.
Secretly filmed by Panorama, the hacker, who cannot be named because he is facing other charges, said: “It weren’t [sic] that hard. I sent you an e-mail that you opened, and that’s it ... I sent it from a bogus address ... Now it’s gone.”
Last night, Mr Hurst, speaking to The Irish Times, said Panorama had found the now dormant virus in his hard-drive in recent months after they sent it for technical examination, but no evidence his e-mails were still being intercepted.
The information allegedly gleaned was faxed to the News of the World ’s Dublin office, where Mr Marunchak was then editing its Irish edition. Mr Scappaticci secured a court order blocking the publication of anything that could identify his whereabouts.
The information gleaned due to the virus, which operated for three months before it self-destructed, was later shared with MI5, Panorama alleges, which appears to imply the source for the programme’s information about the newspaper’s conduct came from MI5.
Mr Hurst, a controversial figure in many quarters, said his computers were now scanned twice a day for viruses: “But back in 2006 we were all a bit naive about internet security – not like now.”
The timing of the alleged interception may have political consequences, since Andy Coulson, British prime minister David Cameron’s former communications adviser, was still editing the Sunday newspaper at the time.