Posted on 17 Aug 2011
An influential parliamentary committee investigating phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct tabloid, The News of the World, released a potentially damning four-year-old letter Tuesday claiming that hacking was routine and “widely discussed” at the paper. Thi is a direct contradiction of repeated assertions by the paper’s owners and editors that until recently they were unaware of the breadth of the problem.
The letter, from Clive Goodman, a former News of the World royal correspondent who briefly went to jail in 2007 for intercepting voice mail messages of members of the royal household, is important because it challenges the claim by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation that until last December it believed that the hacking was limited to one “rogue” reporter — Mr. Goodman — and that it had conclusively investigated the matter. Mr. Goodman sent the letter, including the now-redacted names of others he said knew about the hacking, to the company after he was fired.
The disclosure is a further embarrassment to Prime Minister David Cameron, who has already been ridiculed by his political rivals for his decision to hire a former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications. Mr. Coulson resigned from the paper during the initial phone hacking imbroglio in 2007 and from his government job in the wake of new evidence early this year. He was arrested last month on suspicion of conspiracy in the phone hacking and of corruption in approving payments to the police for information.
In his letter, Mr. Goodman said that phone hacking was regularly discussed in the paper’s daily news conference “until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor,” presumably meaning Mr. Coulson. Mr. Coulson has always claimed he knew nothing about phone hacking. Mr. Goodman sent the letter containing his accusations to a human resources official at News International and copied it to Les Hinton, then the executive chairman of News International.
Mr. Hinton, a close associate of Mr. Murdoch who went on to become the chairman of Dow Jones after it was bought by the News Corporation, resigned from the company this summer after it became apparent that phone hacking at The News of the World had been endemic during his time at News International. He has always claimed he knew nothing about it. He told Parliament in 2007 that he believed the hacking was limited to Mr. Goodman and a hired investigator.
The scandal has already swept through the upper echelons of Britain’s political, media and law enforcement worlds, resulting in a dozen arrests, the resignations of top officials from the News Corporation and the Metropolitan Police, the withdrawal of the News Corporation’s $12 billion takeover bid for the satellite company BskyB and the summary closing of the 168-year-old News of the World.
None of those arrested in the case have yet been formally charged.
The parliamentary panel, the Commons committee on culture, media and sport, said that in light of Mr. Goodman’s letter and other documents, it would re-call for further questioning at least four former employees of The News of the World. It also said it might re-call Mr. Coulson as well as Rupert Murdoch’s son James, who runs the News Corporation’s European and Asian operations.
Both Murdochs appeared last month before the committee in a dramatic hearing punctuated by a bizarre episode in which a self-described comedian attacked the 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch with a plate of shaving cream, only to be slapped down by Mr. Murdoch’s wife, Wendi.
Meanwhile, other letters written to the committee at its request in the last few weeks — including one from an outside law firm hired briefly to advise
The News of the World in 2007, a second from a former editor at the paper and a third from a former lawyer for News International, the British newspaper arm of the News Corporation — all cast doubt on previous assertions by the Murdochs and other company officials.
Particularly embarrassing is the letter from the law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, which was hired by News International in 2007 in the wake of Mr. Goodman’s court case. The Murdochs and others have repeatedly said that they had relied on the firm to investigate whether the hacking was limited to Mr. Goodman and the investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who was also jailed for hacking, and that the firm had assured them it was.
But Harbottle & Lewis said that was a mischaracterization. For one thing, it said, News International provided it with only a limited selection of e-mails in five electronic folders on the company server; the law firm was “not given free rein to look through whatever it wanted