JAMES MURDOCH had a 15-minute discussion with two senior executives over a crucial phone hacking email that he has since denied knowledge of, British MPs were told last night.The former legal manager for News Group Newspapers, Tom Crone, and Colin Myler, the last editor of the News of the World, told a parliamentary inquiry Mr Murdoch was aware of the ”for Neville” email that indicated the use of phone hacking was widespread at the paper and forced the company to settle a claim by a football executive, Gordon Taylor.
”It was the reason we settled the case and in order to settle the case we had to explain it to Mr Murdoch and get the authorisation to settle,” he said. ”We certainly came away with authorisation to settle for the best figure possible.”
But Mr Crone said the £425,000 payment to Mr Taylor – four times larger than any previous settlement for breach of privacy in Britain – had been intended to help hush up evidence of widespread criminal activity at News of the World.
”The provenance of this document was the Metropolitan Police,” he said. ”It was a Metropolitan Police document that had come out of their files.
”How can we be accused of covering up something that’s reached us from the police?”
The former editor Colin Myler confirmed Mr Crone’s claim that Mr Murdoch had been told of the email. He said he and Mr Crone had walked together to Mr Murdoch’s office.
In July Mr Murdoch told the same parliamentary inquiry, the media select committee of the House of Commons, he had known nothing of the email when he agreed to settle the Taylor case.
Mr Crone said the email was the first evidence the company had that hacking was committed by more than a single reporter, Clive Goodman, who was jailed for hacking members of the royal family. The email was headed ”for Neville” and is believed to relate to the paper’s then investigations editor, Neville Thurlbeck. The text of the email was a transcription of voicemail messages hacked from Mr Taylor’s phone.
Mr Crone denied suggestions the payment was aimed at concealing the existence of the document. He said Mr Taylor insisted the document should not be quoted or copied, as it contained personal information about him. Mr Crone said then-editor Andy Coulson, who later became press officer to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had hoped to convince the company to re-hire Mr Goodman after he had served his prison sentence. Mr Crone was annoyed when Mr Goodman was instead sacked, he said.
He denied that payments totalling £240,000 to Mr Goodman had been intended to buy his silence, or that Mr Goodman had been promised a job on the paper if he kept his mouth shut and did not implicate any other employees in hacking.
Jonathan Chapman, a former director of legal affairs for News International, said Mr Goodman was paid for a wrongful dismissal suit because the company did not want then-unsubstantiated allegations about more widespread hacking to be aired in an employment tribunal.
First published on smh.com.au