The Parliamentary committee investigating phone hacking at the News of the World has published a series of internal memos that appear to show senior executives at News International were made aware of a ‘culture of illegal information access” at the paper as far back as 2008.
The documents challenge evidence given by senior News International figures to the culture committee in which they repeatedly claimed that phone-hacking was limited to ‘rogue reporter’Clive Goodman.
They were requested from lawyer Julian Pike, of the law firm Farrer & Co, after his appearance before the committee last month and relate to the company’s legal settlement with Professional Footballers Association boss Gordon Taylor, who sued the paper in 2008 for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and invasion of privacy.
Among them was a written opinion from the barrister Michael Silverleaf QC sent to former News Group Newspapers (NGN) legal chief Tom Crone on 3 June 2008.
Silverleaf told News International that the prospects of it avoiding liability for Taylor’s claims were ‘slim to the point of being non-existent”.
‘There is overwhelming evidence of the involvement of a number of NGN journalists in the illegal enquiries into [redacted],” he said. “In addition there is substantial surrounding material about the extent of NGN journalists’ attempts to obtain access information in relation to other individuals.”
Silverleaf told Crone that in light of this there was a ‘powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at NGN in order to produce stories for publication.’
‘Fatal to our case’
Another document released by the committee was an email sent from Crone to former News of the World editor Colin Myler on 24 May 2008, containing a briefing note ahead of their meeting with chief executive James Murdoch to discuss Taylor’s claims.
In it Crone said that, unknown to NGN, Taylor had obtained a court order forcing the police to hand over paperwork relating to Glenn Mulcaire’s conviction for phone-hacking in 2007, including papers seized from his home.
These included a News of the World contract dated 4 February 2005 in which the paper agreed to pay Mulcaire, who in the contract used the alias Paul Williams, £7,000 for information on Taylor’s alleged affair.
Another document seized from Mulcaire was an email from a News of the World reporter to Mulcaire ‘enclosing a large number of transcripts of voicemails from Taylor’s telephone”, which is understood to be a reference to the ‘For Neville’email.
Taylor’s legal team also obtained documents from the Information Commissioner as part of his report ‘What Price Privacy’– which Crone said contained ‘a list of named News of the World journalists and a detailed table of Data Protection infringements between 2001 and 2003″.
In his briefing note Crone said: ‘A number of those names are still with us and some of them have moved to prominent positions at the NoW and The Sun.
‘Typical Infringements are ‘turning around’ car reg. and mobile phone numbers (illegal).’
Crone admitted the evidence was ‘fatal to our case”, adding: “Our position is very perilous. The damning email is genuine and proves we actively made use of a large number of extremely private voicemails from Taylor’s telephone in June/July 2005 and that this was pursuant to a February 2005 contract, i.e. a 5.6-month operation.
‘He [Taylor] has no evidence that the News of the World continued to act illegally after that but he can prove Mulcair [sic] continued to access his mobile until May 2006 (because Mulcaire pleaded guilty to it).
‘One way or another this was going to hurt NGN’
Pike has also handed the committee notes of a meeting held with Taylor’s lawyer Mark Lewis on 6 June 2008.
Lewis allegedly told Pike that Taylor wanted to carry on with his legal action because of ‘all the issues surrounding what NGN had done”.
‘One way or another this was going to hurt NGN,’wrote Pike. ‘Taylor wanted to show that the News of the World stories had been illegally obtained.
‘He wanted to demonstrate that the NoW had been doing this and that it was rife in the organisation when the NoW had been making public statements including statements in Parliament telling them that they were simply a rogue trader.
‘Taylor was not happy about this. He wanted to speak out about all this.”
Another document published today was a transcript of Pike’s notes of a phone call with Colin Myler on 27 May 2008.
Myler allegedly told Pike that he had spoken with Murdoch, who advised that they should wait for the view of their barrister.
In a transcript of a later call between Pike and Tom Crone on 10 June, Crone said Murdoch ‘wanted to think through his options’while Colin Mayler was ‘moving towards to tell Taylor to fuck off”.
News Corp Europe and Asia boss James Murdoch is set to appear before MPs again next week when he will have to account for his continuing insistence that he was ignorant about the “For Neville” email in 2008, and about the evidence proving that phone-hacking extended beyond jailed royal editor Clive Goodman.