'Les Hinton was complicit in cover-up at News Int'

  • Hinton not only authorised payments to Mulcaire but ‘took decision to make them in first place’
  • Committee finds Hinton was complicit in the cover-up at News International
  • Payments to Mulcaire ‘every bit as distasteful as those with Clive Goodman’

Ex-News International chief executive Les Hinton sanctioned a series of ‘extraordinary’payments to former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman after his phone-hacking conviction in a bid to buy his silence – and then tried to cover-up his involvement in the payments, according to MPs.

Goodman made an unfair dismissal claim against publishers News International after he was released from prison in 2007 following his conviction for phone-hacking alongside NoW private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The committee recognised there was a legal precedent for such settlements but said it was ‘astonished’an employee convicted of a criminal offence would have been successful at an employment tribunal for what was a ‘perfectly-proper dismissal”.

In total Goodman was paid £243,502.08 by News International from the time of his arrest in August 2006 until the conclusion of his settlement a year later.

The payments included £90, 502 in April 2007 and £153,000 between October and December 2007, including £13,000 for legal fees, £90,000 notice and £40,000 compensation.

Today’s report concluded: ‘The double payment of a year’s salary was, by any standards, ‘over-generous’ and it is impossible, therefore, not to question the company’s motives.

‘The pay-offs to a convicted criminal hardly reflect well on (former News International chief executive) Les Hinton, who had authority over both payments.

‘When questioned about them in 2009 he was startlingly vague and–inexcusably–sought to portray his role as a passive one, simply following the advice given to him by his subordinates.”

Evidence taken last year, however, suggested Hinton ‘not only authorised the payments, but took the decision to make them in the first place”.

‘Furthermore, he was responsible for the double payment of Clive Goodman’s notice and, his ‘selective amnesia’ notwithstanding, he would have been perfectly well aware of what he had done,’the committee found.

It concluded that Hinton misled the Committee when he gave evidence in 2009 regarding the extent of the pay-off to Clive Goodman and his own role in making it happen.

‘Deliberate effort to mislead the committee’

Hinton was also found to have misled MPs over a Goodman letter to NoW executives in 2007 alleging widespread involvement in phone-hacking at the newspaper.

When he appeared before MPs in March 2009 he claimed there was ‘never firm evidence provided or suspicion provided that I am aware of that implicated anybody else other than Clive within the staff of the News of the World. It just did not happen This was not true”.

The committee said: ‘Clive Goodman had certainly provided ‘suspicion’ of wider involvement, but Les Hinton failed to mention it to the committee. At no stage did Les Hinton seek to correct the record, even when invited by the committee to do so.

‘We consider, therefore, that Les Hinton was complicit in the cover-up at News International, which included making misleading statements and giving a misleading picture to this committee.

The committee also said that ‘however distasteful it may seem’there was ‘nothing inherently sinister’about News International paying Goodman’s legal fees during his criminal charges.

But it found Hinton’s unwillingness to be ‘explicit’over whether or not the company was paying his legal fees was a ‘deliberate effort to mislead the committee”.

The MPs concluded that arrangements with Glenn Mulcaire following his conviction were ‘every bit as distasteful as those with Clive Goodman, if the newspaper had nothing to hide”.

Today’s report said: ‘The indemnity given to Glenn Mulcaire, paying any costs and damages from the civil phone-hacking claims, was not only conditional on its existence not being revealed; it could also, the company’s lawyers sought to maintain, prevent Glenn Mulcaire serving his own defence in those cases.

‘The company’s determination to cover up the extent of the phone-hacking scandal is also further demonstrated by its willingness to meet the costs of Glenn Mulcaire’s successive appeals against court rulings to reveal who instructed him to hack the phones of the various

‘The settlement, though, is hardly surprising given News International’s over-riding desire to avoid the bad publicity which an employment tribunal would bring.”

UPDATE: 4.30pm

Hinton said in a statement: “I am shocked and disappointed by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s allegations that I have misled Parliament and was ‘complicit’ in a cover-up.

“I refute these accusations utterly. I have always been truthful in my dealings with the committee and its findings are unfounded, unfair and erroneous.

“To be clear, not once in my testimony before the committee did I seek to mislead it or pass blame for decisions to others. Nor did I participate in a ‘cover-up’.

“Furthermore, there is nothing in my evidence to support the committee’s findings that I did.

“I will be writing to John Whittingdale, the chair of the committee, to object formally.”

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