News: Phone Hacking – Commons Committee publishes evidence that “phone hacking was widely discussed” [Updated]

16 08 2011

The House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee has today published further correspondence it has received following the evidence session with News International executives on Tuesday 19 July 2011.   These include letters from James Murdoch, Colin Myler, Tom Crone and, most importantly, Harbottle & Lewis, with a detailed document setting out its role in the case and providing considerable additional information.  As Tom Watson MP has pointed out, this is a potentially devastating document for News International.

In their document Harbottle & Lewis set out the history of their instructions from News International – and the limited nature of their retainer undertaken only for the specific purpose of assisting in deciding how to handle Clive Goodman’s claim for unfair dismissal.  Mr Goodman’s letters to News International relating to his dismissal are appended to the Harbottle & Lewis document.  They are remarkable documents which appear to destroy the whole basis of the “News of the World’s” defence based on “one rogue reporter” and directly implicate Andy Coulson.

In his letter of 2 March 2007 Mr Goodman indicated that he wished to appeal the decision to dismiss him on, among others, the following grounds:

“i.  The decision is perverse in that the actions leading to this criminal charge were carried out with the full knowledge and support of [redacted] ….

ii.  The decision is inconsistent because [redacted] and other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures … This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor …

iv.  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 that paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea …

[Update] A number of commentators have drawn attention to the fact that the same letter was also disclosed by News International but with more extensive redactions.  In particular, the references to “the Editor” and “the daily editorial conference” were removed from point ii. and point iv. was removed entirely.   A comparison between the Harbottle & Lewis and News International versions of the letter can be found on the “Pro Publica” website (which also has a post about the letter).

In a second letter, dated 14 March 2007, Mr Goodman asks for a series of documents evidencing payments and communications between him and various individuals at News Group (whose names have been redacted) relating to work done by Mr Glenn Mulcaire.   This letter refers to a wide range of what appear to be highly relevant and important documents for the phone hacking inquiry.  It appears from the Harbottle & Lewis document that News International refused this request for documents but did gather some emails which were apparently considered for the purpose of deciding whether there was evidence to support contentions i. and ii. in the first letter (see Harbottle & Lewis document, para 5h, p.5).

Harbottle & Lewis provide a convincing refutation of James Murdoch’s evidence that he had “rested on” its letter of 29 May 2007.  They also draw attention to the previous evidence given by Tom Crone and Colin Myler about the extensive investigation carried out by the well known criminal solicitors, Burton Copeland.

It is not clear from the Harbottle & Lewis document what happened in relation to Mr Goodman’s internal appeal against his dismissal.  We know, however, from Mr James Murdoch’s letter to the Committee of 11 August 2011 that News International paid him £90,502.08 in April 2007 and £153,000 between October and December 2007 (£13,000 of which was for legal fees).  The payment of over £240,000 to a “rogue reporter” who had just come out of prison raises very serious questions and is plainly inconsistent with News International having decided that his allegations were without foundation.  Professor Brian Cathcart suggests in the “Guardian” today that James Murdoch is “surely too compromised to stay”.

Mr Goodman’s first letter provides direct evidence as to the knowledge of the Editor of the News of the World about the practice of phone hacking.  Although Andy Coulson is not named it has been assumed that he is the “Editor” to whom Mr Goodman is referring.  In an article about the Goodman letter in the “Guardian” Nick Davies suggests that

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman

The Committee has decided to call Tom Crone, Colin Myler, Daniel Cloke and John Chapman give further evidence on the Thursday 6 September 2011.   Despite the summer break and the appointment of the Leveson Inquiry, the phone hacking saga continues to develop in new directions.


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