Tom Crone versus Parliament: Detailed transcript of a bruising encounter

Colin Myler and Tom Crone face MPs on the House of Commons Culture Media Sport Select Committee, Tuesday 6 September 2011

The For-Neville email and James Murdoch:

John Whittingdale: Can I start with asking you about what has become known as the For-Neville email, which is essentially the main reason why we first wished to ask you to come, since you made a statement following the committee session with Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch in which essentially you gave a different account of what had occurred. Can I first of all establish that both of you are certain in your mind that you told James Murdoch about that email when you came to discuss the terms of the settlement with Gordon Taylor? [This was a meeting between Murdoch, Crone and Myler which took place in 2008]

Tom Crone: I’m certain. It was never referred to as a For Neville email, that is quite significant.

Colin Myler: And me too I’m as certain as I can be, yes.

Whittingdale: Well can I just explore that. I think Mr Crone you had said essentially it was the sole reason for settling with Gordon Tayler. So in your mind this changed the picture entirely. Until you were made aware of this email, there wasn’t reason the settle and this email was produced and you said, ‘right, everything is now different, we’re going to have to settle’.

Crone: Yes, that was the decision, or the advice that was formulated in the consultation with the outside lawyers. After sight of that email transcript, yes.

Whittingdale: This was therefore a pretty devastating piece of evidence that was going to cost the company you were working for the settlement for Gordon Taylor, £600,000, and a great deal more.

Crone: It was a piece of evidence that made me have to settle the Gordon Taylor case, yes, how much was effectively up for grabs through negotiation.

Whittingdale: Because when you appeared before the committee in 2009 we examined this and we discussed the email but you said that Neville Thurlbeck didn’t remember it, Ross Hindley didn’t remember it, you hadn’t managed to find any evidence that it had been sent anywhere else by the servers operated by the newspaper, and therefore it didn’t seem to be that important.

Crone: I don’t think I ever said it wasn’t important.

Whittingdale: But you said all the previous things. That the person it was meant to go to couldn’t remember it.

Crone: We made it absolutely clear to this committee how important that email was on the last occasion…So we did not, we did not underestimate in anyway whatsoever the importance of that email.

Whittingdale: So do you regard the mere existence of that email as evidence that phone-hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman?

Crone: I said that to the committee on the last occasion, that it was evidence, clearly. That was the first piece of evidence we had seen that it went beyond Clive Goodman.

Whittingdale: Given it is so significant then, clearly it must have featured quite largely in your conversation with James Murdoch?

Crone: Listen, it was the reason that we had to settle the case. And in order to settle the case we had to explain the case to Mr Murdoch to get the authority to settle. So it certainly would have been discussed. I cannot remember the detail of the conversation and there isn’t a note of it. The conversation lasted for quite a short period… about 15 minutes. I can’t remember exactly what was said… I can’t remember whether I showed it to him or not, but I certainly discussed it with him.

Whittingdale: Mr Myler, what’s your recollection of these events?

Myler: Mr Crone came to me on the morning and explained the situation regarding the evidence that was presented to us by Mr Taylor’s legal teamand clearly it was something that we would need to take to the chief executive. I said to him I wasn’t sure if James Murdoch was available, as it turns out he was in the country, he was in the office. My secretary called his office and in the afternoon we went to see him… Mr Crone and I went down to see him.

Clive Goodman’s letter claiming the knowledge of phone-hacking was widespread

Whittingdale: Can I turn to the letter which Clive Goodman sent on 2 March 2007 appealing against his dismissal. In that letter he suggested that the grounds against which he was appealing shouldn’t come as any surprise as you, Mr Crone, were at all the meetings of his legal team. Were you aware of that?

Crone: No I wasn’t aware of his letter until quite recently. I think Daniel Cloke [News International head of HR] came and asked me questions about points he was raising in his appeal against dismissal, but I certainly wasn’t aware it was all in a letter, nor did I have sight of the letter.

Whittingdale: But one of the key points he makes in the letter is this couldn’t come as any shock as Tom Crone has been involved in all the discussions I’ve been having.

Crone: He certainly makes that suggestion but that’s not true.

Whittingdale: Did you attend any meetings?

Crone: I attended one full legal conference that he had, the first one. The second occasion, he said he didn’t want me there for the entirety of the meeting…There seems to be two allegations in that letter as far as I can tell: one that I’m suppose to know that he was saying that everyone was doing it, and the other is that I’m supposed to have said to him that effectively if you keep your mouth shut you’ll keep your job…

Whittingdale: I quote: ‘Tom Crone and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any staff in my mitigation plea’. Is that true?

Crone: No that’s not true

Whittingdale: Mr Myler is that true?

Myler: I wasn’t here at the time; these are conversations that have already allegedly taken place… I arrived at the paper at the end of January 2007. I think almost days after the trial had finished and Mr Goodman and Mr Mulclaire had been sent to prison.

Coulson’s promise to get Clive Goodman his job back:

Crone: Can I clarify this; I don’t think the editor being referred to is Mr Myler. And how this might have arose is through a conflation of two issues. I have no idea what Mr Coulson said to Mr Goodman, but Mr Coulson had conversations with me on at least three occasions where he said, at the end of it all, if Clive was guilty and sentenced, when he had served his sentence, paid his fine, done community service served his prison sentence, what ever it was, he, Mr Coulson, was hoping that he could persuade the company that Clive Goodman could come back and work at the company, all be it not in a reporting capacity, perhaps as a sub-editor or a book filleter.

When I spoke to Clive, either during the legal meetings or before or after them, I relayed that to Clive…because Clive Goodman was in a fairly depressed state about everything. He foresaw the worst and saw that he might go to prison… he was quite pessimistic… now I was able to say to him that Andy Coulson was hoping that he could find a way that you could come back to the company, that you don’t have to loose your job over this. Once you have served whatever sentence, if there is going to be a sentence.

Whittingdale: But the chairman of the company had sent him a letter saying you are summarily dismissed.

Crone: Afterwards, yes. After sentencing, and when I saw that letter, and Stuart Kuttner actually showed me a draft, I was very annoyed…

Whittindale: Did you say to Andy Coulson you thought that that would be something he would succeed in – getting Clive Goodman his job back?

Crone: I don’t think I expressed any opinion at all over it to be honest, I felt quite sorry for Clive actually.

Gordon Taylor’s £1m phone-hacking pay-off in 2008:

Tom Watson MP: When did you last review the Taylor file?

Crone: Before coming here in 2009.

Watson: So you haven’t read the Taylor file since 2009?

Crone: I don’t think so.

Watson: So what on earth were you doing for two years Mr Crone?

Crone: Why would I?

Watson: The entire focus of public inquiry has been on the Taylor payment, you were the legal director of News Group Newspapers, and are you seriously telling me that you haven’t reviewed that document in over two years?

Crone: In the aftermath of the sentencing hearing only one of the five [phone-hack victims named in the criminal trial of Goodman and Muclaire] issued civil proceedings against News Group Newspapers, and that was Mr Taylor. Now, my job at News Group and News International is to manage litigation in the most cost-effective manner. Now part of that management is, if you can avoid litigation coming in, you take steps to avoid litigation coming in, and if it all went public with Mr Taylor we’re at risk of having four other litigants coming straight on top of us with enormous cost.

So if we have to pay way over the odds to Mr Taylor, especially if there’s a confidentiality clause, which was asked for my him and agreed by us, or mutually asked for, then that is a good course of action. And if it is £415,000, or £425,000, to settle one case, and thereby you avoid being sued by four others, which may similarly have very, very high demands and hugely big costs to go with them, then that is the right decision to take, in my opinion.

Watson: Do you do now accept that confidentiality was part of the deal?

Crone: I’ve never not accepted that. If you read the evidence from last time you’ll see that’s not the case.

Watson: In 2009 you categorically denied confidentiality was a factor in settling the claim. Would you accept that you misled the committee in 2009?

Crone: Not without seeing the sequence of questions and answers

Watson: Would you read it out…

Crone(reading): Was the size of the payment greater so that proceedings should be kept secret? Not that I’m aware of no. On what basis was it decided to keep the proceedings secret? Secret is not the word I would use…

Watson: We now know that the facts you gave us in 2009 are different to the fact you gave us today. Are you misleading us today or were you misleading us in 2009?

Watson: Isn’t the reason you pay hundred of thousands of pounds more to the Taylor settlement because you were trying to conceal widespread criminality throughout the News of the World?

Crone: No.

Watson: This is the reason they agreed to a confidentiality clause so they could get a higher payment, Taylor’s lawyers?

Crone: They agreed to a confidentiality clause in order to keep everyone quiet about widespread criminality throughout the News of the World, is that what you are saying?

Watson: Was it the case that you said (to James Murdoch) you’d have to settle at a much larger sum to keep phone hacking a secret?

Crone: No.

Watspm: To keep the pretence that Clive Goodman as was a single rogue reporter?

Crone: Not at all.

Watson: But at the time you knew Goodman wasn’t a rogue reporter didn’t you? You knew from the For-Neville email.

Crone: Correct

Watson: Did you ever raise that with Mr Murdoch

James Murdoch and the For-Neville email (again):

Crone: Well I explained the For-Neville email for him yes…What I explained to him, and I can’t give it in clear accurate detail because I can’t remember, but there was only one reason we settled the Taylor litigation, and there was one reason therefore why we went to him to settle the Taylor litigation, and that was the emergence of a document which consisted of an email transcript sent by one of our junior reporters to Glen Mulclaire, and that transcript consisted of voicemail messages left to and by Gordon Taylor.

Watson: So he would have been aware that another member of staff had transcribed intercepted voicemail messages.

Crone: I explained the email to him,yes.

Watson: Did he then apply the company’s zero tolerance to wrongdoing policy and suspend that staff member?

Crone: No.

Watson: So here’s someone that you know has intercepted a transcript message of an illegally hacked phone by the criminal private investigator Glen Mulcaire… And none of you do anything about it? Including James Murdoch.

Crone: The document wasn’t evidence that the junior reporter had intercepted phone calls, but that he had transcribed, presumably from a tape or a disc, a number of voicemail messages. Therefore, what the evidence meant was that Mulclaire’s illegal activity in accessing Gordon Taylor’s voicemail messages, that evidence of that had passed through our office. The News of the World was implicated certainly by knowledge that Glenn Mulcaire had done that.

Watson: That others were aware of phone hacking other than Clive Goodman?

Crone: Yes

Watson: Nobody did anything?

Crone: (Shakes head to suggest no)

Watson: What did James Murdoch say when you put that to him?

Crone: I can’t remember

Watson: You remember telling him that was the case but you can’t remember what his reply was.

Crone: I would have explained the background of the litigation, I would have explained the stance we had taken up to the emergence of this document, and I would have explained what this document was and what it meant.

Watson: Why did he agree to settle?

Crone: That was the advice he was certainly getting from me and from the outside lawyers….

Watson: Why did he agree to settle for so much money?

Crone: In order to get out of a case.

Watson: Isn’t it the case that he was well aware that you would buy the silence of Gordon Taylor if you settled for £425,000?

Crone: The priority at that time was to settle this case, get rid of it, contain the situation as far as four other potential litigants are concerned and get on with our business.

Watson: He knew full well to settle for that amount of money would conceal the For-Neville email.

Crone: We couldn’t reveal the For-Neville email, because it had been given to us under very, very strict terms of confidentiality, imposed almost certainly by Mr Taylor and, I think, the Metropolitain Police. And there’s nothing covered up, [speaking over Watson] can I make something clear which seams to be missed, very regularly, possibly by this committee, and that is that the provenance of the document was the Metropolitan Police. It was a Metropolitan Police document, coming out of their files. How can we be accused of covering up something that has reached us through the police?

Watson: Are you aware that the previous legal guy from the company, Mr Chapman, said that in any case a confidentiality clause wouldn’t stand up…in a criminal investigation, so how could Taylor force you to a clause of confidentiality on an email that suggesting more criminal wrongdoing. You must have known that, you’re a lawyer yourself?

Crone: …What confuses me here is that you seem to be missing what I just said, this document came from the police. Its not as if it hasn’t been looked at, considered. Experts paid close attention to it in the appropriate area, which is the police force of this country.

Watson: The police will have questions to answer as well. But it is the case that you knew that if a crime had been committed Taylor’s lawyers could not hold you to a confidentiality clause, you knew that didn’t you? You’re a media lawyer, you’re a barrister.

Crone: Well, there’s a confidentiality clause agreed by both sides in a piece of civil litigation and normally that would mean to stick to the confidentiality clause I’m afraid, that’s what’s called straight dealing.

Crone denies lying to MPs in 2009:

Watson: Given that there was no apparent investigation into phone hacking, do you accept that you lied to us when you told us you had investigated this and were satisfied with the explanation received.

Crone: No, I didn’t lie to you.

Watson: At the time you told us there was a Harbottle & Lewis inquiry, that there was a Burton Copeland inquiry.

Crone: It sort of goes with the territory, but the chairman has suggested this as well – that we lied to the committee on the last occasion. You, Mr Watson, step out on to College Green and say it on fairly frequent occasions. And you do it when a new development occurs or you see a new piece of paper evidence that’s put before this committee, and you say this is devastating evidence of a cover up, and that this means that they clearly misled the committee last time, or it’s clearly contradictory to the evidence of the last occasion…

You say this is devastating evidence of a cover-up. Mr Chairman said that this means means that they clearly mislead the committee last time or that it’s clearly contradictory to the evidence given last time, but it wasn’t contradictory in any way shape or form, which I explained in my letter to you, and I don’t know whether or not you will accept that now, but I hope you will. It was not contradictory. We did not contradict ourselves when we put out that statement in terms of the evidence we gave the committee on the last occasion. Now, Mr Chairman, I invite you to tell me whether you agree with that.

Whittingdale: I have believed what you’ve told us, but there is no question in my mind that the evidence that you and the other witnesses that we had from News of the World in 2009 suggested to us that there was no real evidence to suggest anybody other than Clive Goodman was involved, that was all.

Crone: But there is the clearest possible answer that I gave you very early on – that until the For-Neville email there was no evidence that it went beyond Goodman. Clearly, when the evidence, the For-Neville email, came through, that evidence existed…

Whittingdale: But you also said that you could find no record of it being forwarded to anybody. You said that the reporter didn’t remember, you said that Neville Thurlbeck didn’t remember it. So the impression you sought to give to us is that, actually, this didn’t really amount to very much since nobody seemed to have any memory of it.

Crone: On the record, publicly, I challenge anyone to read the transcript because I don’t believe that is the case.

Whittingdale: The transcript remains on the record.

Watson versus Crone:

Watson: It was your job to ensure endemic criminal phone hacking at the News of the World was concealed.

Crone: No.

TW: You did this by paying Goodman’s expensive lawyers, and you continued to pay him even when he pleaded guilty and was on remand.

Crone: It’s not remotely surprising that we paid for Clive Goodman’s lawyers. At the time he was arrested we had no idea whether he was or was not guilty, whether he would plead guilty or not guilty. You’re certainly going to start off with supplying him with legal representation, that is the proper, decent and correct thing to do. Then at some stage he then indicated that he would plead guilty. The financing of his representation continued to be paid for by News International. I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be perfectly honest.

Watson: Was it right to pay him even when he was in prison when he’d been found guilty by court?

Crone: Pay what?

Watson: His salary in prison?

Crone: I have no idea, I have nothing to do with how his salary is paid, I didn’t even know it was being paid.

Watson: Ok, and all this dispite gross misconduct, hacking into the Royal Family, was it alright to pay him then?

Crone: Pay him a salary?

Watson: Was it right to pay him the £245,000 pay off?

Crone: Well I have nothing to do with employment.

Watson: What’s your view of that?

Crone: My view is irrelevant.

Watson: The truth is you didn’t see it as gross misconduct did you, you just thought it was a reporter’s job at the News of the World.

Crone: That is absolute nonsense.

Watson: And as far as you’re concerned the only problem was that he got caught.

Crone: That is nonsense

Watson: So now you had to conceal the crime.

Crone: That is nonsense

Watson: You were desperate to ensure it didn’t become known that hacking was standard practice at the News of the World, weren’t you?

Crone: That’s not true.

Watson: And that’s why you told Goodman he could have his job back if he did not implicate the paper or any of its staff.

Crone: Mr Watson since confidentiality in these legal discussions seems to have been waved by Farrer’s at least, it may be that you ask the other lawyers that were present during the legal meetings, they will tell you that the allegation you have just made, that was originally made by clive Goodman, has no truth at all.

Watson: You promised him his job in order to suppress evidence of criminality at the News of the World.

Crone: That is not true.

Watson: And that is why James Murdoch agreed to pay the Taylor settlement, isn’t it?

Crone: That is not true.

Watson: It is the same reason you sanctioned the payment of Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees, wasn’t it.

Crone: I don’t know whether I did sanction it. His legal fees weren’t paid in his criminal representation at the Old Bailey. But when the civil cases started he wasn’t co-operating with us in any way, shape or form. He had to have lawyers and it was agreed, I think, that his lawyers would be financed in the hope that we could get from him the one person that could tell us the full story, we could get the full picture.

Watson: Who agreed it?

Crone: I can’t remember…

Watson: Did you arrange for the lawyers of phone-hacking victims to have their phones monitored by private detectives?

Crone: No.

Watson: Did you arrange for a dossier to be kept on them and follow up on their private lives?

Crone: No.

Watson: How much have you received in your package terminating your employment?

Crone: Nothing.

Watson: Nothing?

Crone: I haven’t had a package terminating my employment.

Watspm: Are you still in negotiations?

Crone: There haven’t really been any negotiations but I’m hoping there will be shortly.

Watson: You’re expecting a package are you?

Crone: I would have thought so, yes.

Watson: Why haven’t you settled already?

Crone: I think most people haven’t settled already, there’s something called a consultation period which is meant to be for 90 days. That is still going on.

Watson: So are there provisions of what you say and can’t say to this committee?

Crone: No, provisions where?

Watson: Have you discussed with News International’s lawyers giving evidence to this committee.

Crone: No

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