Everyone knew NoTW 'rogue reporter' bit was untrue
Including the police, says former tabloid lawyer
James Murdoch was made aware in 2008 that alleged phone-hacking practices at the News of the World went beyond "one rogue reporter", the former legal manager of News Group Newspapers claimed to MPs today.
Tom Crone said that an email with the subject line "For Neville" was "the first piece of evidence we'd seen that showed [illegal voicemail interception] went beyond Clive Goodman".
Goodman was the News of the World's royal editor. He, alongside private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, was jailed for illegal phone hacking in early 2007.
Crone told the Media, Culture and Sports committee that he didn't make a copy of the email, nor did he ever refer to it as the "For Neville" [understood to be NotW reporter Neville Thurlbeck] email. But he insisted that James Murdoch knew about the existence of the document.
Colin Myler, the NotW's final editor, was also present at a 15-minute-long meeting in which it was claimed the email was discussed.
Murdoch signed off a settlement payment of £425,000 – according to a letter (3-page/152KB PDF) to the committee's chairman John Whittingdale from a law firm acting for News Group Newspapers – to Professional Footballers' Association boss Gordon Taylor.
Farrer & Co said Taylor had filed a damages claim against the now-defunct Sunday tabloid. The former FA boss had been seeking up to £1m from NGN, which is a subsidiary of News International.
He eventually accepted the £425,000 offer after batting away smaller proposed settlement figures.
Crone said today that the "For Neville" email "was the reason we had to settle the [Taylor] case".
He claimed that had News International not settled the claim, four other individuals could have then sued the company, bringing on potentially serious commercial damage.
Crone said he had to sign a written undertaking required by the Metropolitan police, who provided him with a copy of the "For Neville" document.
"If you can avoid litigation coming in then you do. If we have to pay way over the odds especially if there's a confidentiality clause then that is a good course of action," he told MPs on the committee.
But Crone denied trying to conceal alleged widespread criminality at NotW, despite his admission that he knew – courtesy of the "For Neville" evidence – that Goodman was not a "rogue reporter" as had previously been claimed by News International.
A transcription by a junior reporter at the tabloid appeared to have originated from voicemail and that was why the company ultimately settled with Taylor, claimed Crone.
"The priority at the time was to contain the situation... get on with our business," he said in response to a question from Labour MP Tom Watson, who asked if Taylor's silence had been bought.
But when Watson grilled Crone further over whether the settlement would also mean the "For Neville" email evidence would be concealed, the erstwhile NGN legal manager retorted:
"The providence of this document was from the Met. How can we be accused of covering up something that has reached us from the police?"
Myler later claimed that James Murdoch understood what was being discussed when the meeting with Crone took place in 2008.
"There was no ambiguity about the significance of that ["For Neville"] document... There was no suggestion then or now that anyone tried to conceal anything," said Myler.
"It was alleged wrongly that we were guilty of covering up or concealing events... that’s not factually correct," he added, in reference to comments made by James and Rupert Murdoch who were questioned by MPs on 19 July.
James Murdoch claimed at that hearing that he was unaware of the email in 2008.
He added at the time that "there was every reason to settle the [Taylor] case, given the likelihood of losing the case and given the damages – we had received counsel – that would be levied". ®