News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has denied seeing an email which implicated him in the phone-hacking row at the newspaper.
And in evidence to the Commons culture, media and sport committee – current News of the World editor Colin Myler and legal manager Tom Crone both insisted that they could find no evidence that anyone at the paper, other than royals editor Clive Goodman, had been involved in phone hacking.
Goodman was jailed in January 2007 for listening to the phone messages of royal aides along with private investigator Glen Mulcaire who had been on a £100,000 a year retainer with the NoW.
The Guardian has published a series of stories alleging that phone hacking was much more widespread at the paper. And it has claimed that the NoW paid out £1m in legal settlements to cover-up further complaints of phone-tapping.
Last week Guardian reporter Nick Davies showed the committee an email which showed that a junior News of the World reporter had written up a hacked telephone conversation and headed it up: “This is a transcript for Neville”, a reference to NoW chief report Neville Thurlbeck.
He also revealed a contract which showed that former NoW assistant editor Greg Miskiw had agreed to pay Mulcaire £7,000 in exchange for a story. And he further alleged that a further 27 other reporters from the NoW and four from The Sun who were implicated in the row.
Colin Myler began his evidence by saying that this last part of The Guardian’s evidence was irrelevant.
Myler pointed out this arose from the Information Commissioner’s Operation Motorman report of three years ago, which the Commons committee investigated in 2007.
He said: ‘There is no connection between those matters and the allegations of accessing voicemails.
Myler then set out in detail the way in which he reminded NoW journalists of their legal and ethical responsibilities after he became editor in January 2007.
And he revealed that since he had become editor of the NoW there has been a reduction of up to 89 per cent in cash payments for stories.
Crone insisted that the first time the News of the World saw any evidence that anyone other Muclaire and Goodman were involved in phone-hacking was in April 2008, during the Professional Football Association boss Gordon Taylor’s action for breach of privacy.
This was when, he said, the two documents produced by the Guardian’s Nick Davies last week first emerged.
These were the contract from February 2005 between Miskiw and Mulcaire and the email of the hacked phone message written up by the junior reporter.
Crone insisted that no-one at News International was aware of these two pieces of evidence until April 2008.
Crone said that he had investigated the matter and could find no evidence from News International’s IT department that the incriminating email had been seen anywhere other than between the un-named junior reporter and Mulcaire.
He said that the reporter concerned had only been made a reporter, and was being trained up from being a messenger, and that his job at the time mainly involved typing up transcripts of tapes.
Crone said: ‘He doesn’t particularly remember this job.”
When asked whether Thurlbeck remembers receiving it, Crone said: ‘His position is that he’s never seen that email and never had any knowledge of it.”
Crone said that Thurlbeck had been briefed on the story which the email related to by the London newsdesk and that his only involvement had been to doorstep someone for a comment.
Crone said that initially Thurlbeck had said he was briefed by Greg Miskiw about the story. But Miskiw had already left the company at that time. Thurlbeck then said he was briefed by the London newsdesk.
Crone said: ‘ I spoke to the relevant person on the London newsdesk who said he had no knowledge of the relevant email and had never seen it.”
Crone said that the contract between Miskiw and Mulcaire related to story which was an ‘independent project’which he had found as a member of the Professional Football Association.
The committee heard that the NoW paid Gordon Taylor £700,000 to settle his case – which included a confidentiality clause.
Crone said such a clauses was standard in such cases and that the idea of it was first brought up by Taylor’s side first.
Crone revealed that the NoW is now dealing with two other complaints relating to phone hacking and one further information request which have come up in the last week.
Crone said that to his knowledge the contract between Miskiw and Mulcaire had nothing to do with phone-hacking.
Committee chairman John Whittingdale said: ‘The fact is that the News of the World agreed to pay £7,000 to Glen Mulcaire for a significant story which related to Gordon Taylor. Glen Mulcaire then hacked into Gordon Taylor’s telephone. Those two things are unrelated?”
Crone: ‘I can only tell you what I’ve found out.”
Under cross examination from MPs Myler explained that Glen Mulcaire provided a variety of completely legal services for the News of World on a 24/7 basis in return for his £100,000 a year.
He said this involved fact gathering, finding individuals from very scant biographical details, making available his extensive database of contact numbers for figures from the world of shiowbiz and football and carrying out surveillance.
In response to the claim that the News of the World paid Mulcaire a further £200,000 in order to secure his silence – the NoW revealed that it had made a payment to Mulcaire on his release from prison because the investigator was able to argue that he was effectively an employee and had been sacked without following the right procedure.
Crone said that be believed some money had been paid to Mulcaire that it ‘bears no relation’to the £200,000 figure.
In response to the question ‘has he been paid to keep quiet”, Crone said: ‘No, absolutely not.”
He said that he was not aware of any additional payment to Clive Goodman.