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.

Murdoch wrong: execs


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

Murdoch knew about phone hacking email, says former News of the World editor


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

Former editor hits back at Heather Mills in phone hacking row

LONDON: A senior British MP has called for the CNN chat-show host Piers Morgan to return to Britain to answer claims that he knew of the phone hacking of Heather Mills, the former wife of Paul McCartney. And Morgan has replied to the allegations saying that Ms Mills was considered to be a “less than impressive witness” by a judge in her divorce hearings with her former husband.
The row has broken out following claims by Ms Mills that the Daily Mirror, which Morgan edited, had hacked her voicemail when she was having a quarrel with McCartney in 2001.
Ms Mills told the BBC that she had gone to India after the row and McCartney had left her a conciliatory message. She said a journalist from Mirror Group Newspapers rang her later “and [started] quoting verbatim the messages from my machine”.
She said she responded, “You’ve obviously hacked my phone and if you do anything with this story … I’ll go to the police.”
To which the journalist allegedly replied, “OK, OK, yeah, we did hear it on your voice messages; I won’t run it.”
Morgan was editor at the time and was not the journalist who rang her. But he later wrote of having heard a message, which appeared to be the same one.
In 2006, he wrote in the Daily Mail, “At one stage I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone. It was heartbreaking. The couple had clearly had a tiff, Heather had fled to India, and Paul was pleading with her to come back. He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang, ‘We can work it out’ on the answerphone.”
Ms Mills said, “There was absolutely no honest way that Piers Morgan could have obtained that tape that he has so proudly bragged about unless they had gone into my voice messages.”
Morgan has consistently denied knowing about hacking at the Mirror, which he edited from 1995 to 2004. He has now replaced Larry King as host of CNN’s chat show and is a judge on America’s Got Talent.
Morgan said the claims were unsubstantiated and that the BBC had confirmed the journalist spoken of had not worked on his paper. “I have no knowledge of any conversation any executive from other newspapers at Trinity Mirror [group] may or may not have had with Heather Mills.
“Sir Paul McCartney asserted that Heather Mills illegally intercepted his telephones and leaked confidential material to the media. This is well documented and was stated in their divorce case.
“Further, [the judge] wrote of Heather Mills, ‘I am driven to the conclusion that much of her evidence … was not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid. Overall, she was a less than impressive witness.’
“No doubt everyone will take this and other instances of somewhat extravagant claims by Ms Mills into account.”
But the Conservative MP Therese Coffey, a member of the select committee investigating hacking, said the evidence against him was “very strong” and that he should return to Britain to answer questions.
She told the BBC: “I just hope that the police take the evidence and go with it and if Mr Morgan wants to come back to the UK and help them with their inquiries – and I don’t mean being arrested in any way – I’m sure he can add more light … I think it would help everybody, including himself and this investigation, if he was able to say more about why he wrote what he did in 2006.”
A spokesman for the Mirror Group said all its journalists worked within the law and the UK Press Council’s code of conduct.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

‘It won’t be pretty’ – father and son brace themselves for public grilling

The scheduled grilling of Rupert and James Murdoch by British MPs today will be a piece of high theatre or a dreary exercise in evasion. It might, in the end, come down to the kind of legal advice each side receives about how to navigate the legal minefield.
The main issue is what the law calls “sub judice”. When people have been arrested, their cases should not be publicly canvassed before they are heard in court, where all the proper rules will be in place and both sides can test the evidence.
This means the Murdochs might be able to refuse to answer many questions, for fear of prejudicing all the phone-hacking and bribery cases under police investigation.
The former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, may escape appearing altogether given that she has now been arrested.
The two Murdochs have reportedly spent the weekend closeted with public relations advisers along with their lawyers. The PR advice, experts speculated at the weekend, would range from “sit up straight” – if you sit crooked, you look crooked, apparently – to “make eye contact”.
They might use the air-time to apologise again for hacking. After steadfastly refusing to for more than a week, the company ran full-page advertisements in the national press at the weekend.
In terms of the Murdoch agenda, Rupert has said that he wants to address “some of the things that have been said in Parliament, some of which are total lies … We think it’s important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public … I felt that it’s best just to be as transparent as possible.”
The MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee were reportedly considering placing the Murdochs under oath. Lying under oath to the Parliament would be contempt and would attract penalties such as fines, or even, theoretically, a stint in the long-unused parliamentary cell.
The more likely outcome of any impropriety, however, would be grounds to challenge the Murdochs as “fit and proper” holders of media licences.
The most pressing questions for James Murdoch are why he authorised payments of hundreds of thousands of pounds to hacking victims – was it to buy their silence? How could he not have had the full picture, as he claims, when he signed the documents?
The Guardian reports that Rupert Murdoch was quoted as saying no such payment had been made.
Did his son conceal it from him, and if so, why? And how did the company come to mislead the Parliament last time it faced questioning, when executives promised this was the work of one rogue reporter?
That line was held by the former chief executive Les Hinton, who resigned from Dow Jones last week; the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson; the editor Colin Myler; and Tom Crone, then News International’s senior lawyer and another one recently resigned from the Murdoch empire.
Paul Farrelly, a Labour MP on the committee, said: “We are going to ask James Murdoch which of the people who came in front of us, as far as he knows, told us the truth.”
The MPs might also want to know why a large stash of the company’s hacking-related emails, dating back to 2006, was only given to police in January. Both the Murdochs are likely to be asked when it was that they realised phone hacking and other illicit activities had been widespread, who they knew to be involved in it and what they had done about it once they found out.
In the unlikely event that Rebekah Brooks appears, they might ask her about the truth of claims by The Mail on Sunday that she told the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to take on Andy Coulson as his media chief.
They might also question her about how hacking could have been so routine in her newsroom without her knowing – she claims she had no idea. And they might ask how she could have read the story about hacked missing girl Milly Dowler and not wondered how her reporters had got the material in it. Whether the questions will elicit useful information is, in itself, a question.
A leading media lawyer, Mark Stephens, told The Independent: “The flaw in the system is that MPs are not forensically trained like barristers to cross-examine the eye-teeth out of people.” But the Murdochs have not been forensically trained either.
One of Rupert Murdoch’s biographers, Michael Wolff, said the media baron would be worried because public appearances do not play to his strengths, which lie in the backroom deal.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“He is awful at this sort of stuff. He is pretty inarticulate, mumbles all the time and is incredibly defensive … It won’t be pretty and he will be taking his preparation very seriously.”

Politicians turn on Murdoch after sniffing changing wind


THE phone-hacking scandal has been the best of times and the worst of times for both journalism and democracy. It was five years of stubborn, upright investigation by the The Guardian that exposed the vicious, grubby tactics of the News of the World. Now Britain, shamed by the exposure of many of its leaders as craven and corrupted, has vowed to restore the integrity of its political system.
But for Rupert Murdoch there has been nothing but trouble as he tried to stare down what might turn out, in hindsight, to be his Citizen Kane moment — the point when his dreams turn to ashes.
It has been a long time coming.
The British establishment donned the bovver boots with grace, with MPs this week turning on a brilliant show of rhetoric over highfalutin principles that few publicly gave a toss about a week before. But beneath it all flowed a long-dammed torrent of venom towards the Australian interloper they call “the Dirty Digger”.
Murdoch is being likened in the broadsheet press — the parts of it he doesn’t own — to the Arab dictators being overthrown because of abuse of power. Labour peer David Puttnam said Murdoch papers were like the Stasi. Andreas Whittam Smith, founder of The Independent, suggested Murdoch had begun to pose a threat to British society something like the Mafia in Italy. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee said the push to take on Murdoch broke Britain’s “omerta” (the Mafia code of silence).
How did the boy from Oz earn such fear and loathing? His critics say it is because he abused his power as a media baron to manipulate the political process and intimidate those within it.
Some analysts pinpoint the start of it all to 1992. Labour had been expected to win an election led by Neil Kinnock. Murdoch papers campaigned against him, with The Sun saying on election day: “If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” When he lost, the paper declared: “It’s The Sun wot won it.”
An alarmed Labour Party sought to disarm its new enemy and the Conservatives were not far behind. The links between the empire and politicians on both sides have been strong. Former prime minister Gordon Brown, this week so scathing of The Sun’s treatment of the news of his baby son’s cystic fibrosis, was among those currying favour — and his wife Sarah reportedly helped organise the 40th birthday party of Rebekah Brooks, the head of News International who resigned yesterday. Former prime minister Tony Blair is reported to have had regular private meetings and phone calls with Murdoch. It has been claimed Murdoch rang Blair encouraging him to join the invasion of Iraq.
Writes Marina Hyde of The Guardian, who describes herself as “a recovering Murdoch employee”: “Rupert Murdoch was the only figure powerful enough to be able to state explicitly, without consequence, that he was backing war on Iraq to bring down the price of oil. So his ‘free press’ all cheer-led for said war . . .
“The whitewashing report into the death of a scientist who questioned the basis for that war was mysteriously linked to Murdoch’s papers . . . while others in his pay hacked the phones and emails of those casualties of war being repatriated in body bags, to be monetised as stories all over again . . . This is a land where a change in prime ministers constitutes the mere shuffling of Rupert’s junior personnel.”
It is claimed that those who refused to play the game or who fell into disfavour were often punished. An MP who declined to back a NoTW campaign initiated by Brooks to name and shame paedophiles was then targeted by one of the paper’s private detectives who searched for him on a police database, The Guardian reports. He was one of a string of Labour leaders and MPs allegedly campaigned against.
Last month Cameron and Opposition Leader Ed Miliband attended Murdoch’s annual summer party in London. Cameron is also reported to have visited Murdoch in his yacht off the coast of Greece in 2008. Before the scandal broke, he was friends with Brooks and with Andy Coulson, the editor who presided over the News of the World during its phone-hacking phase, but whom Cameron nevertheless hired as his media adviser.
“Politicians were too busy feeding bananas to the tabloid gorilla to notice it was crapping on the carpet,” wrote Michael White in The Guardian.
Now the leaders are channelling Pontius Pilate, washing the suddenly visible Murdoch taint from their hands and trying to work out whose “execution” would best fit their purpose. The political row has been presented as a grand defence of democracy but it is also a Darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest. It’s just that since the news broke about phone-hacking of bereaved families, enraging the public, the political definition of “fittest” has been transformed.
For his wit in perceiving where that might lead, the points are with Miliband, who took a bold risk that forced Cameron into a humiliating series of back-steps. But every move by each of them has been made in self-interest as they sniffed the changing wind. Democracy? Or hypocrisy? Perhaps both.
Even when he was at risk of bankruptcy in the 1990s, Rupert Murdoch was never so besieged. His bid for cable-TV station BSkyB is withdrawn, maybe forever. He and his son and Brooks have been summonsed by the House of Commons to give evidence. His company faces investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. The succession of James is now problematic. Some investors have called for the Murdoch family to relinquish its dominance of News Corp.
And a call from Citizen Murdoch will never again be received in quite the same way.First published in The Age.