The House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport yesterday heard evidence from four former “News of the World” executives, Jon Chapman, Daniel Cloke, Colin Myler and Tom Crone (pictured). The Committee also published correspondence with a range of witnesses, including a number of solicitors.
Perhaps the most interesting evidence concerned the question of whether James Murdoch was aware of the so-called “For Neville” email, which showed that phone hacking was not confined to one “rogue report”. The former Legal Manager Tom Crone told MPs he was “certain” James Murdoch was told about the email. Mr Crone said he told him about it during a 15-minute meeting in 2008 that former editor, Colin Myler also attended. He said the email only emerged during the process of disclosure in the Gordon Taylor action against the “News of the World”:
“Up to then there was no evidence that the News of the World was implicated. The first I saw of that was that was the ‘for Neville’ email which reached us in spring 2008. We went to see Mr Murdoch and it was explained to him what this document was and what it meant.“
Mr Crone said that, at that meeting, James Murdoch authorised him to reach a settlement with Taylor, who was eventually paid £425,000.
Mr Myler supported this account saying it was “inconceivable” that Murdoch was unaware that the email indicated hacking went beyond a single rogue reporter at the Sunday newspaper.
Later in the day Mr James Murdoch issued a statement saying he stood by his original testimony that he had not been aware phone hacking extended beyond Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire. He said
“Neither Mr Myler nor Mr Crone told me that wrongdoing extended beyond Mr Goodman or Mr Mulcaire. As I said in my testimony, there was nothing discussed in the meeting that led me to believe that a further investigation was necessary.“
It appears that the Committee will seek to recall Mr James Murdoch to give further evidence on this point.
In another interesting piece of evidence, Mr Crone said he saw a document concerning the private lives of claimant lawyers, prepared by a freelance journalist employed by News International.
The published documents contained some important new material. In a letter dated 22 July 2011 Linklaters (on behalf of the “Management and Standards Committee” of News Corporation) informed the Committee that Burton Copeland LLP were not instructed to carry out any investigation into phone hacking. This was confirmed in a letter to the Committee from Burton Copeland LLP dated 30 August 2011.
A letter from Farrer & Co dated 2 September 2011 provides a detailed account of the settlement of the Gordon Taylor claim against “News of the World”. It discloses that Mr Taylor had initially sought £250,000 but then demanded £750,000 to £1 million and, in return, the “News of the World” had made an offer of £50,000 which was rejected. An offer of £150,000 was also rejected. Farrer & Co then obtained the advice of Leading Counsel (who is not named)
“His view was that the court might award a sum at any level from £25,000 to £250,000 or possibly even more, although this was extremely unlikely. His view was that the award would either be about £100,000 or about £250,00 depending upon the person reaction of the judge who heard the claim”
An offer of £350,000 was made but was rejected on the basis that Farrer & Co were told that Mr Taylor “wanted to be vindicated or made rich”. After further negotiations, final terms were agreed, including a payment of £425,000 damages plus costs.
Finally, we draw attention to two interesting blogposts by David Allen Green in the “New Statesman”. First, there is his post on “The story of Mr Goodman and Mr Justice Gross” analysing when “News International” knew that phone hacking went beyond the activities of Mr Goodman. The position was, he concludes, clear even before Mr Goodman’s letter of 2 March 2007 – from Mr Justice Gross’ sentencing remarks.
Second, there is his post on today’s hearing. He suggests that what is coming apart is “the cynical strategy adopted by News International in trying to close down the story about the criminality of their reporters“. His main conclusions are worth setting out in full
“First, there is still no good reason to suppose that phone hacking was confined to the News of the World. Indeed, the “Operation Motorman” exercise of the Information Commissioner’s Office from 2003 to 2006 shows that the trade in unlawfully obtained information (other than phone hacking) was rife throughout Fleet Street. It was just that the clumsy hacking of the Royal Household telephones by Mulcaire and Goodman could not be ignored.
Second, there was a general failure of the British polity over the last ten years to address the casual criminal behaviour of tabloid journalists. One by one those entities charged with upholding the public interest failed to deal fully with the wrongful conduct at the time: the PCC and then Parliament seem to have been misled; and the police inexplicably narrowed its initial investigation before deciding to take no further action. With the exception of the Guardian, it was left to the civil claimant lawyers, and the New York Times, to expose the scale of the phone hacking scandal. Without these actors, there would not have been a select committee hearing today.