The News of the World yesterday accused The Guardian newspaper of being irresponsible and misleading in its reporting of phone hacking allegations.
Rebekah Wade, who is soon to start as chief executive at News International, the owner of the Sunday tabloid, accused The Guardian of substantially misleading the public and suggested that it had done so deliberately. In a statement issued last night after two days of silence she came out fighting and denounced a series of The Guardian's claims as untrue. She promised that executives from News International will, when they appear before a Parliamentary committee, refute allegations that hacking into the phones of celebrities, sporting figures and politicians was common.
A statement released last night by News International set out its position following claims that thousands of celebrities, sports figures and politicians had their phones hacked into by or on behalf of News of the World journalists. Clive Goodman, the paper's royal reporter, was jailed in 2007 for hacking into phones belonging to members of the royal household.
The Guardian claims that News International, part of Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire, had paid out £1m in damages and costs in the wake of the royal editor and Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective, being sent to jail for conspiring to intercept messages. Mulcaire also admitted intercepting messages of five other people, including Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, who was awarded £700,000 when he sued. Jo Armstrong, a legal adviser at the PFA, was named last night as one of two others who shared another £300,000.
"The only other evidence connecting News of the World reporters to information gained as a result of accessing a person's voicemail emerged in April 2008, during the course of the Gordon Taylor litigation," News International admitted last night. "Neither this information nor any story arising from it was ever published."
The news organisation denied any of its journalists apart from Goodman had been involved in hacking voicemails or that there was "systemic corporate illegality by News International to suppress evidence". The statement added: "It goes without saying that had the police uncovered such evidence, charges would have been brought against other News of the World personnel. Not only have there been no such charges, but the police have not considered it necessary to arrest or question any other member of News of the World staff."
In response, The Guardian welcomed the rival news organisation's first admission that the out of court settlement with Mr Taylor took place and called for documents relating to the case to be made public.
Ms Wade and other senior executives have disputed allegations that thousands of people had their phones hacked but suggestions that hacking was much more widespread than previously recognised despite investigations by police and a Parliamentary committee has prompted a flurry of calls to lawyers who were confident of many more payouts if the claims were found to be true.
In a letter to John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Ms Wade denounced The Guardian for using unnamed sources. "It [The Guardian] is rushing out high volumes of coverage and repeating allegations by such sources as unnamed Met officers implying that 'thousands' of individuals were the object of illegal phone hacking, an assertion that is roundly contradicted by the Met Assistant Commissioner's statement," she wrote.
There was a specific denial that voicemails to John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, or the football managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Alan Shearer had been intercepted.
The Liberal Democrats yesterday appealed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to look into whether Scotland Yard detectives failed to investigate the allegations more thoroughly.Reuse content