The question of which News International executives were party to a cover-up remains the central unresolved issue stemming from the phone-hacking affair.
Yesterday, former News of the World editor Colin Myler and legal manager Tom Crone contradicted evidence given by News Corp Europe and Asia chief executive James Murdoch saying that he was made aware of an email headed “for Neville” of a hacked voicemail message.
This related to evidence which came up making the case for a £700,000 out-of-court settlement to be paid to Gordon Taylor in 2008 to settle a claim for invasion of privacy stemming from allegations of phone-hacking which were already public knowledge.
Myler and Crone said yesterday that they did inform James Murdoch of the email at that time – contradicting his evidence to MPs. The email seemed to disprove the News of the World line that Clive Goodman acted alone because it suggested that the journalist who wrote up the hacked voicemail message and the journalist referred to as Neville (the News of the World’s chief reporter was called Neville Thurlbeck) were party to phone-hacking.
This is the second time that Myler has sought to contradict evidence given to the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday by his bosses.
James and Rupert Murdoch were repeatedly asked on Tuesday about company emails which had been in the possession of News International lawyers Harbottle and Lewis since 2007 and which apparently included evidence that phone-hacking was more widespread than News International was admitting.
James Murdoch said he became aware of this “internal report” in the spring of this year, around April or May.
Murdoch said the report was put together in early 2007, at the time that Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were jailed, and was in response to an unfair dismissal case brought by Goodman.
James Murdoch said: “It was right at the time Mr Myler had come in [as editor]. Codes of standard had been talked about – this was before my time – all of the 2007 business was there, and an investigation was done, or a fact-finding piece around this.
“Outside counsel was brought in – it was Harbottle and Lewis – by the company at the time. I understand that the legal executives – I think it was Mr Chapman at the time, along with Mr Myler, who testified to this effect – took a report.
“From then, the opinion was clear that as to their review, there was no additional illegality in respect of phone-hacking in that file.”
Paul Farrelly MP asked later: “We are left now in a situation where you, having looked into this affair and co-operated with the police, cannot tell us who lodged the file with Harbottle & Lewis, who was aware of its contents, and who kept you from being in full possession of the facts – evidence that is clearly now being submitted to the police, but that clearly contradicts all the assurances that we were given, not in one but two select committee inquiries. I hope you would agree that that, frankly, is unsatisfactory.”
James Murdoch said: “Mr Farrelly, I can say that the company at the time engaged an outside law firm to review a number of these emails. They were provided to the law firm, as I understand it. They were reviewed and an opinion was issued to the company based on that review by a respected law firm. The opinion was clear and the company rested on that.”
Murdoch junior said later: “The Harbottle report was re-looked at in conjunction with the new and restarted criminal investigation. These are serious matters and we take them seriously. When it was looked at and it was deemed that these things would be of interest to the police, we immediately brought in additional counsel – Lord Macdonald, whom you mentioned earlier.”
Rupert Murdoch later said, in response to questioning about whether it was possible that his editors were ignorant of the illegality which had been going on: “I can’t say that, because of the police inquiries and, I presume, coming judicial proceedings. That is all I can tell you, except it was my understanding – I had better not say it, but it was my understanding that Mr Myler was appointed there by Mr Hinton to find out what the hell was going on, and that he commissioned that Harbottle and Lewis inquiry. That is my understanding of it, I cannot swear to the accuracy of it.”
Before the hearing was over, Myler had issued the following “clarification”.
He said via a spokesperson: “Contrary to what the committee were told he had no part in commissioning, meeting with or reviewing Harbottle and Lewis or their work. For complete clarity, the contents of the emails were never shared with him.
“At the end of the inquiry Mr Myler was told by the Director of Human Resources Daniel Cloke: ‘Good news, there is no smoking gun or silver bullet in the emails.'”