By Ray Fleming

THE name of James Harding has not been much heard during the phone-hacking scandal of the past month but in a very real sense he has been at the heart of the story.

Mr Harding is editor of The Times, one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, and has therefore been in the difficult position of upholding journalistic and ethical principles while being a leading figure in the company which had been caught abusing them.

Mr Harding did not flinch; The Times took a fiercely independent line and more than once castigated the senior members of News International for their “catastrophic” handling of the crisis.

Yesterday, when he was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Media Show, he revealed that from the moment the hacking of Millie Dowler's phone was revealed The Times was hit badly by subscription cancellations and the loss of as many as 20'000 sales on some days. He believes, however, that Mr Murdoch has now recovered control of the News International operation and that a recovery is likely -- but that may depend on what further revelations remain to emerge.

Not everyone likes The Times of today; too much of it has a tabloid touch. But James Harding has shown that on essential matters of press frankness and press freedom it has not lost any of its “thundering” qualities of old.