NOTW 'blagged Alex Ferguson's medical records'

 

A former News of the World sports writer who was bullied out of his job by Andy Coulson has described News International's claim to be a compassionate firm as "almost laughable".

In a harrowing account of the bullying culture inside the former Sunday tabloid, Matt Driscoll told the Leveson Inquiry how his mental health had suffered once Mr Coulson had decided, as memos revealed, that he wanted the senior sports writer "out and quickly".

He also claimed that the sports desk at the NOTW had used a "specialist blagger" to gain the medical records of the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Although the story was not published, he said the information had been used to "get a deal" with the coach to deliver more stories.

He told the inquiry: "It was put to Alex Ferguson that we wouldn't use this information and ... because of that he then started co-operating with the paper... A few weeks later he gave us some stories to use in the paper."

Mr Driscoll was signed off work with stress-related depression in July 2006. Despite his GP insisting that his condition was associated with unwarranted attacks on him at work and that he needed to "to distance himself" from the NOTW, NI took no notice of the health warning. Instead, the managing editor Stuart Kuttner led a number of senior executives in phoning and emailing Mr Driscoll on an almost daily basis.

Scotland Yard is currently examining allegations that Mr Driscoll's phone may have been hacked while he was fighting for compensation for both unfair dismissal and the company taking advantage of his depression. Despite an employment tribunal awarding him £800,000 in compensation and criticising Mr Coulson and senior NOTW executives for their treatment of the journalist, three further appeals were lodged by the company – all of which failed.

The treatment of Mr Driscoll contrasts with NI's claim to have protected its jailed royal correspondent Clive Goodman because they were concerned for his family. In January 2007 Goodman was convicted, along with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, of hacking the phone of members of the royal family.

Goodman wanted to be given his job back after he came out of prison, but the NOTW refused. With NI probably fearing a tribunal would allow him to state publicly there was no truth in the company line that phone hacking was confined to one "rogue" reporter, he received a generous settlement of £240,000.

In September this year, the Commons committee investigating phone hacking questioned Jonathan Chapman, then NI's legal manager. He said: "On the editorial side at News International, there has always been more of a feeling of family compassion and humanitarian stuff."

By contrast, the inquiry heard yesterday that NI's treatment of Mr Driscoll was "a cynical process of giving the appearance of fairness", with Mr Coulson ordering that he leave the paper "as quickly and as cheaply as possible". He was eventually dismissed in 2007.

Earlier in his testimony Mr Driscoll said that although "dark arts" such as blagging and hacking had been "rife" at the news and features departments of the NOTW, it did not happen on the sports desk. He claimed the introduction of hacking and obtaining medical records and other illegal practices had been partially based on satisfying lawyers "that the crux of stories were sound".

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