No evidence of widespread hacking was found, says former Murdoch legal chief

LONDON: No criminal lawyer was asked to assess a cache of 2500 emails gathered by News International lawyers in an internal probe into phone hacking in 2007, the former director of legal affairs for the company told the hacking inquiry.

Jonathan Chapman told MPs no evidence of widespread phone hacking had been found. He said it was a review over an employment claim, not a criminal review. It was prompted by allegations about other staff that had come from the sacked royal editor of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, who was later jailed over phone hacking.

Mr Goodman appealed against his sacking in a letter to the company claiming phone-hacking was widespread at the paper and had been routinely discussed at news conferences.

Former group human resources director Daniel Cloke told the inquiry the claims had been made by a former employee who had been sacked for gross misconduct but that the internal inquiry still reviewed the emails, interviewed other staff and took the matter to a third party, the legal firm Harbottle & Lewis.

Mr Cloke said he was confident as HR director ”that we had covered the bases”.

MPs were also expected to pursue questions about James Murdoch’s credibility and business practices following claims that part of his evidence to the committee in July was wrong.

Colin Myler, the former editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, the former legal manager for News Group, were due to give evidence about their claims that Mr Murdoch had been wrong to tell the inquiry he had not known of a crucial News of the World phone-hacking email.

Mr Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer for News Corp, told the inquiry in July that he did not know of an email that showed hacking was not limited to Goodman, when he approved a £700,000 ($1.06 million) damages payout to a football executive. The email, headed “for Neville” and believed to be addressed to investigations reporter Neville Thurlbeck, transcribed hacked voicemail messages of the Professional Footballers Association chief, Gordon Taylor.

Mr Crone and Mr Myler later contradicted Mr Murdoch’s denial. They wrote to the committee alleging Mr Murdoch had either been told about, or actually shown, the Neville emails before he signed the payout deal. The two men might also be asked about claims this week that News authorised private detectives to spy on three lawyers for hacking victims and create dossiers about their political beliefs and private lives.

Meanwhile, News International announced it would sell its Wapping site in east London and move most of its titles – including The Sun and The Times – to another London site. Wapping became synonymous with Rupert Murdoch’s breaking of the stranglehold of the Fleet Street print unions in the 1980s, which many of his detractors agreed helped to save British newspapers.

He built a new printing works there, sacked all 5000 existing print workers, and brought in new staff and technology. Eventually other British papers followed his example.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.