A popular British blog written by a police officer using a name of his choice, rather than his real name, has been told that simply will not work, after a TimesUK journalist took him court. NightJack has been silenced and Richard Horton has been outed.
Detective constable Richard Horton wrote his popular blog under the name NightJack. According to this report, some of NightJack’s columns received half-a-million readers a week. In April 2009, Horton received the Orwell Prize for political writing. The prize was a problem, however, because “the judges were unaware that he was using information about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions.”
There was a lot of attention heading towards my blog and I was nervous that somehow, despite my efforts to remain unknown, my identity would come out. As an anonymous blogger, I was just another policing Everyman but if it came out that I worked in Lancashire, I knew that some of my writing on government policy, partner agencies, the underclass and criminal justice would be embarrassing for the Constabulary. Also, as an anonymous police blogger I was shielded from any consequences of my actions but without the protection of that anonymity, there were clearly areas where I would have to answer for breaches in the expected standards of behaviour for police officers.
Here’s how Horton describes his own blog:
My name is Richard Horton and for the last 17 years, I have worked for Lancashire Constabulary. For the last 12 years or so I have been a detective. There is really no other job that I have ever wanted to do. However, for the last 18 months, I have led a double life as the author of a well known anonymous police blog called NightJack.
It all began around December 2007 when I began to read blogs for the first time. I read blogs by police officers from all over the UK. They were writing about the frustrations and the pleasures of what we all refer to as “The Job”. As I read, I began to leave comments until some of those comments were as long as the original posts. Reading and responding made me start to consider my personal feelings about “The Job”. So it was that in February 2008, I made a decision to start blogging for myself as NightJack. That decision has had consequences far beyond anything that I then imagined possible.
My head-on accounts of investigating serious crime and posts on how I believed policing should work within society seemed to strike a chord and my readership slowly grew to around 1,500 a day. I got a book offer but I turned it down because my blog was never about making money.
By January 2009, it felt like I was starting to repeat myself and looking back now, my writing had clearly taken on a harshly critical political edge so I decided to stop writing the blog. Then, unexpectedly, in February 2009 I was long listed for the Orwell Prize. In March 2009 NightJack made it on to the shortlist. I realised that what had begun as a set of personal ruminations was achieving a life of its own. I cannot deny that I was happy with the recognition, but at the same time I had the feeling that the Orwell Prize was a big, serious, very public event. Win, lose or draw, my blog was about to move out of the relatively small world of the police blogosphere and get a dose of national attention.
There’s more of this interesting story, including the many offers from literary agents and publishers. Read it here.
A Times “journalist,” Patrick Foster, gets a few minutes of fame for identifying NightJack “by a process of deduction and detective work,” because although others learned NightJack’s identity by virtue of the Orwell Prize, no one was interested in giving up the secret.
The attorney for Horton argued:
…thousands of regular bloggers . . . would be horrified to think that the law would do nothing to protect their anonymity if someone carried out the necessary detective work and sought to unmask them”. Mr Tomlinson said that Mr Horton wished to remain anonymous and had taken steps to preserve his anonymity.
Horton sought an injunction stop The Times from revealing his name, but the Judge said:
…the mere fact that the blogger wanted to remain anonymous did not mean that he had a “reasonable expectation” of doing so or that The Times was under an enforceable obligation to him to maintain that anonymity.
Horton said his blog was never for sale and he isn’t interested in offers from the publishing world. He still holds his job, although he received a “written warning.”
I noticed the few comments on the article in The Times favored NightJack and one felt that Patrick Foster was out of line for pushing the issue and another saw it as one more “nail in the coffin for freedom.”
Horton seems regretful of his blogging venture. He regrets the attention directed toward his family and his “Constable.” His blog has been deleted and he says it is slowly “falling off the edge of the Google cache.” It will be interesting to see if Mr. Horton changes his mind and gives that literary agent a call.