A House of Commons committee has found the News of the World’s former editor Colin Myler and its head lawyer Tom Crone in contempt of Parliament over their misleading phone-hacking evidence.
The Committee of Privileges has found that Myler misled the Commons media committee in 2009 about his knowledge of phone-hacking and other wrongdoing at the News of the World and made a finding of contempt against him.
It found that Crone misled MPs in 2009 about the significance of a confidentiality settlement with phone-hacking victim Gordon Taylor and News International’s desire to hush up the matter by increasing the size of the pay-off.
And it found Crone in contempt of Parliament for giving false answers to questions about the extent of phone-hacking at the News of the World.
The committee cleared former News International chairman Les Hinton and the company as a whole (now called News UK) of contempt of Parliament.
It recommended that both Crone and Myler be formally admonished by the House of Commons for their conduct. It could have recommended fines or even imprisonment.
The report states: “In evidence [to MPs], Tom Crone and Colin Myler gave repeated assurances that there was no evidence that any further News of the World employee, beyond Clive Goodman, had been involved in phone-hacking.
“This was not true and, as further evidence disclosed to us by the newspaper’s solicitors Farrer & Co now shows, they would have known this was untrue when they made those statements.
“Both Tom Crone and Colin Myler deliberately avoided disclosing crucial information to the Committee and, when asked to do, answered questions falsely.”
Myler was editor of the News of the World from 2007 until its closure on 11 July 2011.
The Commons report reveals that on 21 December 2011, Myler provided a statement to the Metropolitan Police in which he said that on 11 July 2009 (exactly two years before the closure of the News of the World) the paper’s chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck confessed to him and Tom Crone that he had hacked David Blunkett’s phone in 2004.
Myler said that he reported this to then chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Yet in evidence given to MPs on 21 July 2009 (ten days later), Myler said there was “no evidence” phone-hacking at the News of the World extended beyond royals reporter Clive Goodman.
In December 2011 Myler gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and was asked: “throw your mind back to three or four years ago…Did you believe the one rogue reporter defence?”.
Myler said: “I think there had been no evidence presented to support any other view.”
Yet the MPs said that Myler was briefed on the contents of an opinion given to News International by Michael Silverleaf QC on 3 June 2008 explaining why the company had to settle the Gordon Taylor privacy case.
It said: “There is overwhelming evidence of the involvement of a number of senior NGN journalists in the illegal enquiries into [REDACTED]. In addition there is substantial surrounding material about the extent of NGN journalists’ attempts to obtain access to information illegally in relation to other individuals.
“In the light of these facts there is a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at NGN in order to produce stories for publication.”
The Gordon Taylor privacy action was settled by the News of the World for £425,000 in June 2008. This was partly as a result of Taylor’s legal team obtaining an email transcript of voicemails emailed to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire on 29 June 2005 headed “for Neville”.
Today’s report finds that when Myler and Crone where questioned by the Commons media committee in September 2011 they “attempted to downplay the significance of the ‘for Neville’ email and made no mention of the legal opinion that they had obtained”.
The Commitee of Privileges report states: “In itself this amounts to an attempt to mislead the Committee about the import of a crucial piece of evidence and the failure of the company to act upon it.”
The MPs note that Myler heard Clive Goodman’s appeal against dismissal in the spring of 2007 in the wake of his conviction for phone-hacking.
Today’s report notes that in a letter relating to that appeal of March 2007, Goodman said his sacking was “perverse because his actions were ‘carried out with the full knowledge and support’ of Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis, with payments arranged by Stuart Kuttner.
“He stated that Ian Edmondson and other staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures, and that the practice was widely discussed at the daily editorial conference until explicit reference was banned by the editor.”
The Committee of Privileges report says: “We have concluded that it is significantly more likely than not to be true that Tom Crone misled the CMS Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement.
“He was involved in the settlement negotiations and knew that NGN’s desire for confidentiality had increased the settlement amount.
“Colin Myler misled the CMS Committee by ‘answering questions falsely about [his] knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing’.”
A 2012 report from the Commons Media Select Committee found that “corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the Committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth.
“Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions.
“In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors— including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch—should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.”
There is no evidence that phone-hacking occurred while Colin Myler was editor of the News of the World.
In July 2014, following the hacking trial, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones along with former news editors Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, former private investigator for the paper Glenn Mulcaire and former reporter Dan Evans.
Another former News editor for the paper, Ian Edmondson, was also subsequently convicted of phone-hacking.
Former News of the World editor in 2002 Rebekah Brooks (now chief executive of parent company News UK) was found not guilty by the jury, as was managing editor Stuart Kuttner.
RESPONSE FROM TOM CRONE
Tom Crone has issued a statement saying he does not accept the committee’s findings.
On the conclusion that he “misled the CMS Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement”, Crone said this:
“I do not accept this finding.
“I have never heard of ‘giving a counter-impression’ being a recognisable concept in law or justice, and whatever it means, cannot accept, that it is an appropriate basis for a formal finding of contempt.
“I am criticised in the Report for failing to take the ‘opportunity to provide a full and honest answer ….on the question of confidentiality’. In fact, I answered every question put to me on this subject and, I answered them fully and honestly.
“Answers are dictated by questions and witnesses are there to answer the specific questions asked. It is not for me as a witness to suggest appropriate questions to the Committee or to address the Committee other than by reply to questioning. The witness answers the specific questions put by the inquisitor and when the inquisitor moves to a different subject the witness follows.
“In this instance the Chairman of the Committee asked me four specific questions on this matter all of which I answered fully and honestly. He then moved to a different subject and, inevitably I moved to that subject with him.
“I do not accept that I can be criticised for failing to answer questions I was not asked.
On the involvement of others in hacking, he said: “Not only is this allegation without any evidential foundation, but the relevant transcript demonstrates that I accepted at the very outset before the CMS Committee in 2009 that from April 2008 there was evidence, in the form of the ‘for Neville’ email, and another document that ‘the problem of accessing by our reporters, or complicity in accessing, went beyond the Goodman/Mulcaire situation’.”