Former News International legal chief Tom Crone has told a Parliamentary committee that he was “certain” that News International’s (NI) James Murdoch was aware that the phone-hacking scandal went beyond one rogue reporter.
Crone spectacularly quit the newspaper group in July after 26 years there (13 July 2011).
He was recalled to give evidence to the select committee today after James Murdoch claimed not to have been told of an email purporting to show widespread hacking at the News of the World.
The evidence given by Murdoch in July was disputed by Crone, who claimed that Murdoch was “mistaken” when he said he had not been told of an email known as the “for Neville” email which showed evidence of widespread hacking.
Speaking to the committee today, Crone said he was “certain” Murdoch had seen the email.
Crone said the email was the reason the tabloid had to settle a hacking claim brought against it by chief executive of the Professional Footballer’s Association Gordon Taylor. Taylor’s lawyer, Taylor Hampton consultant Mark Lewis, secured a £425,000 settlement for his client back in 2007 (20 September 2010).
He told MPs: “It was clear evidence that phone-hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman. It was the reason that 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 certainly it would certainly have been discussed. I cannot remember the detail of the conversation. And there isn’t a note of it. The conversation lasted for quite a short period, I would think probably less than 15 minutes or about 15 minutes. It was discussed. But exactly what was said I cannot recall.”
Evidence provided by Farrer & Co to the select committee fails to corroborate Crone’s assertion, however. Partner Julian Pike was instructed to act for News Group Newspapers, an NI subsidiary, in response to Taylor’s claim.
The firm said it was first aware of the “for Neville” email when it was disclosed by Lewis in April 2008.
Negotiations over the settlement, the firm said, were carried out between Pike and Lewis, with instructions for the newspaper given by Crone.
“Mr Pike never had any contact with Rupert or James Murdoch regarding the settlement negotiations,” the firm said.
In a separate development, BCL Burton Copeland has clarified how it acted for the news group.
On 21 July 2009 Crone and the tabloid’s former editor told the select committee that BCL Burton Copeland undertook an investigation into wrongdoing at the News of the World.
Yet during the summer Linklaters, which has been retained to advise News Corp’s management and standards committee on the hacking scandal, wrote to the committee to clarify that BCL Burton Copeland had not been instructed to investigate the scandal.
A letter sent by BCL Burton Copeland states that the firm was only retained in relation to Metropolitan police charges against its former royal correspondent Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire.
“BCL was not instructed to carry out an investigation into “phone hacking” at the News of the World”, the letter states. The firm did not work for the tabloid between 2007 and 2010, although it was retained again in January to advise on recent police investigations into the scandal.