Sunday 17 December 2017

Phone hacking widely 'discussed' under Andy Coulson – new letter

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Phone-hacking was "widely discussed" at the News of the World under former editor Andy Coulson, according to documents released today.

The papers published by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee include a letter written by the newspaper's former royal editor Clive Goodman saying the practice was regularly discussed at editorial meetings until Mr Coulson banned any further mention.

Labour committee member Tom Watson described the disclosure as "devastating" for Mr Coulson - David Cameron's former communications chief - who has always denied any knowledge of the practice.

In a further development the committee chairman John Whittingdale said they were now "likely" to recall James Murdoch after his evidence to the committee last month was challenged by two former senior executives at the newspaper.

Mr Goodman's letter was written in March 2007 in support of his appeal for wrongful dismissal for his part in the phone-hacking scandal.

In it, he stated: "This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor."

He also stated that he had been promised by Mr Coulson and the paper's then legal manager Tom Crone that he could have his job back if he did not implicate anyone else when he was prosecuted by police for intercepting the messages of royal aides.

"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 the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me," he wrote.

A News International spokeswoman said: "News Corporation's board has set up a management and standards committee, chaired by independent chairman Lord Grabiner, which is co-operating fully with the Metropolitan Police and is facilitating their investigation into illegal voicemail interception at the News of the World and related issues.

"We recognise the seriousness of materials disclosed to the Police and Parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities."

The Goodman letter was included in the submission released by Harbottle and Lewis, the lawyers appointed to assist News International in dealing with Mr Goodman's appeal against dismissal.

But Mr Watson said a version of the letter was also included in the submission to the committee from News International in a heavily redacted form.

The MP said News International's version blacked out references to the "daily editorial conference" and "the Editor".

He said the Goodman letter raised "very very serious" questions about Mr Coulson's denial that he was aware of hacking at the paper he edited.

"We have written to Andy Coulson to ask him whether he would like to amend his previous evidence," Mr Watson said.

"Clearly if Clive Goodman's account is accurate it shows the evidence he gave us was at best misleading and probably deceptive."

In his submission, James Murdoch revealed payments worth £243,502 were made to Mr Goodman in relation to the unfair dismissal claim, including £13,000 to pay his legal fees.

Mr Watson said there were still "unanswered questions" for James Murdoch "because senior executives at the company have given a detailed account and it contradicts his account".

He added events had now "come full circle", stating he thought the papers "now takes it back to Andy Coulson".

Mr Watson said: "The Goodman letter I genuinely think is devastating and shows that if it is accurate the whole foundation of the company defence, in all the evidence they gave to all the inquiries, was bogus, and so we need to bottom that out.

"Then we need to get to the facts of the payments to people who left the company either for gross negligence or because they went to jail, and was their silence bought?"

He said he thought there was a "cover up", adding: "I think we're dragging out the facts of this case, day by day, week by week."

Mr Watson said he thought the Committee was "genuinely shocked" by the amount Clive Goodman was paid.

In his letter to the Committee, Mr Murdoch (junior) said he was informed that approximately £246,000 was paid to Glenn Mulcaire's lawyers.

The committee also released a letter from Harbottle and Lewis rejecting claims by Mr Murdoch that News International was entitled to rely on a review the firm carried out to assert Mr Goodman had been the only reporter involved in phone-hacking.

The firm stressed that the review of emails had been a limited "desktop exercise" which specifically related to Mr Goodman's claim for wrongful dismissal.

"There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes," it said.

"If the firm had initially been given a retainer as broad as instructions 'to find out what the hell was going on' or (to put it more formally) to undertake an investigation which News International could use for broader purposes, such as laying it before Parliament as independent support for the 'one rogue reporter' theory, the firm would have refused the instructions."

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