News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks negotiated an out-of-court settlement totalling nearly £700,000 with PR man Max Clifford over his claim that his phone had been hacked by the News of the World, the company’s lawyers have disclosed.
In a letter to the culture committee investigating phone-hacking at the newspaper, Linklaters, which represents News Corp‘s management and standards committee (MSC), said it had not found any written agreement and there was no evidence it had been referred to the board of News International or its parent company.
“The MSC understands that the agreement between Mrs Brooks and Mr Clifford was concluded in early February 2010 and was to the effect that the commercial relationship between Mr Clifford and the company would recommence, that Mr Clifford would help with stories and would be paid a retainer of £200,000 per annum for two years.
“The company also paid Mr Clifford’s legal costs which amounted to £283,500 plus VAT,” the letter said.
“The MSC understands that Mrs Brooks was authorised to conclude this agreement by virtue of her position as chief executive of News International.
“The MSC has seen no information to suggest that this agreement was discussed by the boards of News Group Newspapers, News International or News Corporation.”
Former NoW editor Colin Myler also told the committee that the Clifford settlement was “overseen and directed” by Brooks.
It has also been confirmed that a Labour MP was put under surveillance by a private investigator working for the NoW.
Lawyers for News Corporation said Tom Watson – who is an outspoken critic of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – had been placed under surveillance for five days in 2009.
In a letter to the culture committee, Linklaters said three employees had been involved in commissioning private investigator Derek Webb to carry out the work.
The firm was responding after MPs submitted a further list of questions to James Murdoch following his last appearance before them last month.
The committee sought information over allegations that all its members were put under surveillance by News of the World journalists and by private investigators employed by the now defunct newspaper for between three and 10 days in 2009.
Linklaters said the MSC was currently looking into the matter and its inquiries were not yet complete. However, there was information that Mr Watson was under surveillance by Mr Webb between September 28 and October 2.
“The MSC’s present understanding is that three employees were involved in commissioning this surveillance,” Linklaters said.
“We do not think it appropriate to name the individuals involved given the ongoing police investigations. We have discussed this with the Metropolitan Police Service who share this view.
“The MSC has seen no information yet to suggest that any other member of the committee (or their family or friends) was under surveillance.”
Webb, a former police officer, has claimed the News of the World paid him to target more than 90 people over an eight-year period, including Prince William, former attorney general Lord Goldsmith and Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe’s parents.