Thursday 14 December 2017

NI chiefs 'surprised' by hack claim

Andrew Woodcock

Senior executives at News International were "surprised" to hear claims from jailed former News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman that phone hacking was widespread at the paper, the company's former personnel chief told MPs today.

After his release from jail in 2007, Mr Goodman wrote an explosive letter to the then NI group human resources director Daniel Cloke protesting against his dismissal for hacking the phones of members of the royal household.

Goodman insisted he should keep his job, claiming that "other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures" and that "this practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference".

The letter, which came to light during the summer, flies in the face of the position News International took at the time of Goodman's trial - that he was a rogue reporter acting alone.

Mr Cloke today told MPs on the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into phone hacking, that Mr Goodman's claim surprised not only him, but also News of the World editor Colin Myler and NI head of legal affairs Tom Crone - both giving evidence later today - and NI chairman Les Hinton.

Asked if they had all been surprised, Mr Cloke said: "That is my recollection."

"Tom said that this was a surprise to him, as it was to everybody else."

Mr Cloke said that as a human resources executive, he regarded the interception of voicemail messages as "gross misconduct" for which Mr Goodman deserved to be sacked.

The allegation that other reporters may have been involved in similar practices was looked into by the company as a separate issue, he said.

Jonathan Chapman, former director of legal affairs at NI, told the committee that a "thorough" review of internal emails in 2007 turned up "nothing that indicated reasonable evidence" of voicemail interception.

"No other illegal activity stood out," he said - insisting that he did not recall at any point thinking there was material that would require the police to be brought in.

Mr Cloke told the committee he had no recollection of describing a subsequent review by external legal firm Harbottle and Lewis, which found nothing to suggest that phone hacking was widespread, as "good news".

According to Mr Myler, the former HR chief told James Murdoch after the review: "Good news, there is no smoking gun or silver bullet in the emails."

But Mr Cloke told the MPs: "I do not think I would have said 'good news'...I do not recall saying that.

"It did not feel like good news at that time."

He said that while no evidence had been uncovered, "the people accused could not prove their innocence".

While the declared lack of evidence of wrongdoing was "to some extent good news", he said, "to some extent we were in middle ground".

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