‘Orchestrated cover-up’ at News of the World

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by a Newsnet reporter

More pressure was heaped upon News International yesterday as MPs on the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport released a letter written by Clive Goodman in 2007 which appeared to cast doubt on the testimony of James Murdoch and other News International executives.  Mr Goodman was the sole journalist jailed for his part in the hacking scandal after the first, now discredited, investigation into the affair.  The newly released letter makes damaging allegations about the actions of News International staff and threatens to undermine the entire defence put forward by the company so far.

The letter was included in the written response made to the committee by the legal firm Harbottle and Lewis.  In their defence against the allegations of wrongdoing at the paper, James Murdoch and News International executives have relied heavily upon what they claimed was legal advice from Harbottle and Lewis that there was no evidence of criminal activities beyond the actions of a single “rogue reporter”.  However it now transpires that the company had known about the existence of Mr Goodman’s letter and the allegations it contains since 2008.

In another twist Harbottle and Lewis claim that the version of events made public by Mr Murdoch and others at News International was not an accurate reflection of the brief which had been asked of the legal firm.  The company obtained special permission to break client confidentiality in order to make its version of events clear to Parliament.

In his letter to the company Mr Goodman said that phone hacking had been “widely discussed” by editorial staff at the paper.  He further stated that he had received promises from senior executives that his job would be safe if he did not implicate other employees of the paper or the paper itself in court.  

Mr Goodman went on to argue that his sacking was inconsistent because certain other individuals were also carrying out “the same illegal procedures”.  Mr Goodman named some of these individuals in his letter, this information was redacted at the request of police officers who are investigating the phone hacking and corruption allegations.  Some of the individuals named were claimed to have employed the services of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who was employed by the News of the World and who was also convicted in 2007.

However the most shocking allegation came in Mr Goodman’s claim in his letter that: “This practice [phone hacking] was widely discussed at the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor.”  The editor to whom Mr Goodman refers is Andy Coulson.  Mr Coulson has consistently denied that he had any knowledge of phone hacking during his tenure as editor of the News of the World.

If the statements made by Mr Goodman in his letter are true, this clearly contradicts the evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee by News International executives and raises serious questions for the company.  It also calls into question evidence given by Andy Coulson at the perjury trial of Tommy Sheridan.

However perhaps even more dangerous to the company is the written evidence of former News International legal manager Tom Crone, and the last editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler.  Both men have informed the Committee that they told James Murdoch about the so-called “for Neville” email which implied that criminal behaviour was not confined Mr Goodman, the “single rogue reporter”.  During his appearance before the committee last month Mr Murdoch told MPs that he did not know about the email.

Mr Crone and Mr Myler will appear before the Committee to give evidence on September 6th.

Depending upon the evidence presented by Mr Crone and Mr Myler, MPs will decide whether to recall James Murdoch and his father Rupert before Parliament in order to face further questions from the Committee.

One committee member, the Labour MP Tom Watson, said Goodman’s letter was “absolutely devastating” and claimed that it revealed a cover-up within the company.  Speaking to the BBC Mr Watson said: “Clive Goodman’s letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far.  It completely removes News International’s defence.  This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime.”

The disclosure of the documents has put more pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise for his decision to employ Andy Coulson as Downing Street director of communications.  Mr Cameron gave the job to Mr Coulson just a few weeks after Mr Goodman had sent his letter appealing his dismissal from News International.

Ed Miliband described the Prime Minister’s decision as “catastrophic”. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office refused to comment, saying: “The Prime Minister has made his thoughts on Andy Coulson clear.”

In a statement, News International said: “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 full response from Harbottle and Lewis to the Select Committee is available here as a pdf file.  The text of Mr Goodman’s letter begins on page 39 of the document.  Certain parts of the document have been redacted at the request of police officers investigating the allegations.