Phone hacking: who will feel the force of this ticking time bomb?

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The Independent Online

In June 2008, James Murdoch authorised a secret, out-of-court settlement of £500,000 (including costs) to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.

The payment shows that Mr Murdoch, whose role as European chief executive of News Corp gave him responsibility for the News of the World, knew about phone hacking. When News International's top executives appeared before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2007 and 2009, they insisted that internal investigations had pointed only to Clive Goodman. Now we know, courtesy of The Sunday Times – its master's (often silent) voice – that there was damning evidence and that it was suppressed. It quoted a News International executive as saying: "We were sitting on a ticking time bomb."

Last week Mr Murdoch admitted mistakes in his handling of the affair, particularly the Taylor pay-off. News International is privately saying that Mr Murdoch "was not aware" of the devastating internal report when he agreed to Mr Taylor's settlement. Nor, it says, was Rebekah Brooks. Ms Brooks and James Murdoch are aggressively defending their position and appear to be blaming others for mounting a cover-up.

This newspaper scandal now looks likely to ruin the reputations of top executives. The question is: which ones?

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