The News of the World‘s former chief reporter has provided written evidence to MPs accusing executives on the paper of “withholding information” about the extent of phone-hacking at the title from a parliamentary committee and other senior News International managers including James Murdoch.
Neville Thurlbeck claimed Colin Myler, the former News of the World editor, and Tom Crone, the former head of legal at the newspaper, had left him “to dangle as a suspect for the next two years” after he first told them in July 2009 that he had “final proof” that phone-hacking at the paper went beyond a single “rogue reporter”.
The phone-hacking scandal eventually led to the decision by the paper’s owners News International to close the title in July of this year.
News International had previously insisted that phone-hacking had only been carried out by royal correspondent Clive Goodman, who commissioned private detective Glenn Mulcaire to hack into voicemail messages. In 2006, they were both found guilty of phone hacking and were jailed the following year.
Thurlbeck said his name first became publicly linked to allegations of phone hacking in July 2009 in relation to a News International settlement with PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor. Taylor was paid £425,000 in damages over the interception of voicemail messages.
In a letter to the Commons select committee chairman, John Whittingdale MP, which was published online late last night, Thurlbeck wrote: “In my intimate experience of the fall-out from the phone hacking scandal, there has been a pattern of News of the World executives withholding information from News International executives and to the [culture, media and sport committee].”
He also wrote that because of what he claimed was a “backdrop of persistent non-disclosure”, he cannot believe allegations by Myler and Crone that they told Murdoch in 2008 that phone-hacking at the News of the World went beyond a single reporter. Murdoch – the News Corporation deputy chief operating officer and News International chairman – denies that he was told this.
Thurlbeck said he could not believe that if Murdoch had been told that there was evidence of more widespread phone hacking that he would not have taken further action to find out what had been going on at the News of the World after deciding to pay Taylor damages – a settlement that rose to more than £700,000 including legal costs – in 2008.
“It is inconceivable to me that upon deciding to pay record damages for invasion of privacy based upon telephone hacking that he would not have discussed the implications for the company and shareholders with other members of the board, who would in turn have advised holding an internal inquiry. They didn’t,” he wrote.
Thurlbeck was arrested and bailed in April of this year for alleged phone hacking, and was sacked by News International in the summer. He denies hacking into phones.
In another letter to the culture select committee published late on Wednesday, Crone insisted he conveyed to Murdoch the damning legal opinion from the company’s own barrister of “overwhelming evidence” that there was “a culture of illegal information access” in the newsroom.
He claims he provided Myler with a copy of the written opinion by Michael Silverleaf, QC on 3 June 2008, and that this was duly reported to Murdoch at another meeting on 10 June.
He admits he “cannot remember” whether he “handed a copy of counsel’s opinion” or whether he and Myler “simply briefed him”. But he is sure: “I certainly went to the meeting with a spare copy of the written opinion for Mr Murdoch and would have offered it to him.
“If he was not given the copy it was because he asked to be briefed rather than reading it himself.”
Myler also stands by his previous claims that he and Crone did brief Murdoch about external legal advice to settle with Taylor.
“I do not know whether Mr Murdoch was given a copy of Mr Silverleaf’s opinion. I did not give him a copy.
“However, Mr Crone and I briefed Mr Murdoch at the meeting on 10 June 2008 that Counsel’s advice was to settle Mr Taylor’s claim,” he wrote to the culture select committee.
Myler says he did not read a copy of the Silverleaf opinion but was “briefed” on the substance of the advice which was to “settle Mr Taylor’s claim”.
Thurlbeck claims that a taped phone conversation – with the News of the World journalist alleged to have made the transcript of the Taylor voicemail messages in the “for Neville” email – exonerates him.
- Neville Thurlbeck: ‘News of the World withheld hacking evidence’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Lachlan leads from behind. Not quite a babbling Brooks re settlement (ikners.com)
- Phone hacking: News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck warned hacking was widespread (telegraph.co.uk)
- James Murdoch claims truth about phone-hacking was hidden from him – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)
- You: James Murdoch claims truth about phone-hacking was hidden from him (guardian.co.uk)
- Phone hacking: Neville Thurlbeck ‘begged legal chief not to show Murdoch key email’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- The ten questions James Murdoch needs to answer (telegraph.co.uk)
- Editor was warned of hacking, say police (smh.com.au)
- You: James Murdoch: Myler and Crone’s testimony to MPs ‘misleading’ (guardian.co.uk)
- James Murdoch calm and contrite during gruelling inquisition by MPs (guardian.co.uk)