James Murdoch looks set to be recalled to Westminster to answer fresh questions from MPs. Mr Murdoch will be ordered to give new evidence to the Westminster Parliamet’s Culture, Media and Sport sub-committee which has been investigating the phone hacking and corruption allegations which dogged the News of the World.
The move to recall Mr Murdoch comes after former News International executives testified before the committee today that in 2008 they had made Mr Murdoch aware of the contents and significance of the now notorious ‘for Neville’ email, which apparently provided evidence that phone hacking by the News of the World was not confined to royal correspondent Clive Goodman, the so-called single ‘rogue reporter’, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
The evidence of the executive apparently contradicts key parts of the testimony previously given to the committee by James Murdoch.In his appearance before the committee earlier this summer, Mr Murdoch denied he knew about the email and claimed that he had no reason to believe there was a widespread problem at the newspaper until late in 2010.
In his evidence to the committee today, former News International legal adviser Tom Crone repeatedly insisted that Mr Murdoch had been made aware of the contents and significance of the email in a meeting in 2008 to discuss settling a legal case being brought by Gordon Taylor. Mr Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, was suing News International after discovering that the paper had hacked his telephone. Mr Murdoch reportedly authorised a settlement of ₤700,000 to settle Mr Taylor’s legal costs and claim for damages.
Controversially, the settlement included a confidentiality clause. This clause prevented other individuals who had approached the newspaper via their lawyers about phone hacking allegations from knowing of one another’s existence.
Asked by the committee whether Mr Murdoch was told about the email and its significance during the meeting, Mr Crone said: “It was clear evidence that phone hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman. It was the reason we had to settle the case and in order to settle the case, we had to explain the case to Mr Murdoch and get his authority to settle, so clearly it was discussed.
“Since he gave us the authority we were asking for, I would take it that for the first time he realised News of the World was involved and that involvement involved people going beyond Clive Goodman.”
Mr Crone insisted: “I told him about the document” and added that it was clear to all at the time that “this document meant that News of the World had a wider problem and that we had to get out of it.”
However pressed to clarify points of his evidence, such as who said what to whom and the precise wording used, Mr Crone’s repeatedly stated that he was unable to recall the exact details.
Committee member Louise Mensch MP drew attention to the conflicting versions of events being offered by different individuals and was clearly unimpressed by Mr Crone’s vague recollection of the details of the meeting, calling his evidence as “clear as mud”.
Earlier in the day, Jonathan Chapman, the former director of legal affairs with News International, told the committee that Rupert Murdoch was incorrect when he told the committee that he blamed the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis for failing to uncover the scope of the hacking scandal back in 2007. “I don’t think Mr. Murdoch had his facts right … He was wrong.”
However in a statement released last night James Murdoch insisted that he was sticking to his version of events and denied that he had seen the email nor was he aware that there was wrongdoing in the company beyond Clive Goodman.
“My recollection of the meeting regarding the Gordon Taylor settlement is absolutely clear and consistent. I stand by my testimony, which is an accurate account of events.”
“I was informed, for the first time, that there was evidence that Mulcaire had carried out this interception on behalf of the News of the World,” Murdoch said, stressing that it was “for this reason alone that Mr Crone and Mr Myler recommended settlement.”
“It was in this context that the evidence was discussed. They did not show me the email, nor did they refer to Neville Thurlbeck. Neither Mr Myler nor Mr Crone told me that wrongdoing extended beyond Mr Goodman or Mr Mulcaire.”