The final cost of the News of the World hacking scandal could rise to £1bn, according to a private assessment made by former News International chief executive Tom Mockridge.
He also warned that without the deep pockets of News International (now News UK) parent company News Corp - The Sun, Times and Sunday Times would all have been put out of business by the hacking scandal.
Investigative journalism website Exaro today published details of a secretly-taped meeting held between Mockridge and arrested journalists in November last year. At least 22 Sun journalists have been arrested over the last two years, mainly as a result of information released by News Corporation to the Met Police.
The meeting was called by Mockridge to tell Sun journalists that one of their colleagues had been suspended after being charged under the Operation Elveden police investigation looking at payments to public officials.
He said: “If NI wasn’t a subsidiary to News Corporation, this company would be bankrupt now. There wouldn’t be a Sun, a Times, a Sunday Times. There’s no way this company, as a stand-alone operation, could afford to financially sustain the exposure it’s taken...
"There’s a shitload of just financial expense – across the civil cases. The hacking probably, by the time it’s all over, is going to cost News Corp minimum of £500 million, if not a billion.”
This compares with a current estimate of $448m from News Corp for the company's liability as a result of the hacking scandal.
Mockridge explained that the huge cost to News Corp of the hacking scandal was partly due to the closure of the News of the World.
He said that title used to contribute around £80m profit a year, adding that its replacement - The Sun on Sunday - "is not nearly as financially contributive".
Mockridge revealed to staff that in the last financial year (which presumably would be for the year to June 2012), "we" (presumably News International) made an operating profit of £15m. But he said that with the legal costs associated with hacking and the Management and Standards Committee it made a loss of £250m.
And he suggested that if police investigations against Trinity Mirror escalate, the Mirror publisher could be pushed out of business.
"If that have a run at Trinity Mirror, they’ll tip over."
It was revealed last month, so 10 months after Mockridge was speaking, that Trinity Mirror is facing a police investigation at a corporate level over allegations of phone-hackling.
Mockridge talked about “bloody lawyers” and said the company had embarked on a strategy of “open-heart-surgery co-operation” with the police.
In the meeting one Sun journalist described the handing over of material by News Corp that identified confidential sources to police as “one of the greatest acts of treachery in journalistic history”.
Mockridge replied: “You ask me personally, I’d agree with you…That sticks in my craw. But again, it’s a decision the News Corporation company has made.”
He said: “We’ve still got coppers in this building next to us. We’re actually working to try and get them out of the building, and trying to get them to terminate the ongoing investigation.”
Mockridge succeeded Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International in July 2011 and left the company last December. He later become chief executive of Virgin Media.
Mockridge told the arrested journalists that they would be suspended if charged, but not necessarily sacked - even if convicted. He said those were convicted would face discplinary proceedings and they would be looked at on a case by case basis.
A spokesman for News UK said: “Tom Mockridge no longer works for the company.”