TWO former News International executives have publicly disputed James Murdoch’s evidence to an inquiry into the British phone-hacking scandal.
Weeks after Mr Murdoch testified to MPs that he had no knowledge of an email detailing hacking at News of the World, the inquiry was told last night he had in fact been involved in a 15-minute discussion about it.
Both executives told the inquiry that Mr Murdoch had been told about the email, which indicated that hacking was more widespread than previously admitted by News International, the UK arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
The former legal manager for News Group Newspapers, Tom Crone, said the email was the reason the company had to settle a suit by a high-profile football executive, Gordon Taylor, whose phone was hacked by News of the World, the Sunday tabloid that has been shut down as a result of the scandal. ”In order to settle the case we had to explain it to Mr Murdoch and get the authorisation to settle,” he said. ”It was explained to him that this document had emerged and what it meant.”
A former News of the World editor, Colin Myler, confirmed Mr Crone’s claim that James Murdoch, News International’s chief executive, had been told of the email at this meeting. He said Mr Crone had ”swung by my office” and they had walked together to Mr Murdoch’s office.
In July, while appearing before the media select committee of the House of Commons with his father, Mr Murdoch said he had known nothing of the email when he agreed to settle the Gordon Taylor case.
Mr Crone said the email was the first evidence the company had that hacking was committed by more than a single rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, who was jailed for hacking members of the royal family. The email detailed voicemail messages hacked from Mr Taylor’s phone.
Mr Crone said the 2008 decision to settle the lawsuit from Mr Taylor was motivated partly by a desire to avoid further lawsuits. He said the company hoped that the confidentiality clause would prevent others suing. But he said it was Mr Taylor who 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 media officer to Prime Minister David Cameron, had hoped to convince the company to rehire Mr Goodman after he had served his prison sentence, out of compassion for him and his family.
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 if he kept his mouth shut.
MP Jim Sheridan told the inquiry that he and several others had received a letter from a former senior member of News International saying the inquiry was dealing with sensitive and complex matters and ”powerful, well-connected and ruthless individuals who will do anything to keep the real truth under wraps because the truth could blow apart their global empire”.
Jonathan Chapman, former director of legal affairs for News International, told the inquiry that Rupert Murdoch had got it wrong when he blamed a London law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, for failing to uncover the scope of the scandal in 2007. ”I don’t think Mr Murdoch had his facts right,” Mr Chapman told MPs. ”He was wrong.”
Later, Mr Crone told the MPs he had seen a dossier on the private lives of lawyers involved in claims against the News of the World. The dossier had been gathered by a journalist commissioned by the paper.
Mr Crone said he knew who commissioned the investigation, but could not say who because he didn’t want to compromise a police investigation.
First published on theage.com.au