Plot thickens as veteran lawyer quits News International

Tom Crone knows where many of the bodies are buried, and has been a remarkable Fleet Street lawyer
  • @iburrell

Tom Crone once remarked that doing legal work on the News of the World could feel like being on "a forward patrol in Helmand province" with "plenty of incoming, occasional hand-to-hand combat and a high risk of casualties". Yesterday he became the latest casualty of the meltdown at News International, resigning after 26 years in its legal department.

With the phone-hacking scandal raging in Parliament, Mr Crone walked out of the company headquarters in Wapping, east London, where he has stood at the shoulder of some of Britain's most famous tabloid editors, from Kelvin MacKenzie, David Yelland, Stuart Higgins and Rebekah Brooks of The Sun to Piers Morgan and Andy Coulson at the News of the World. Mr Crone follows close on the heels of NI's head of legal, Jon Chapman, who left last week.

A friend briefed that the lawyer was going with a "clear conscience", and had not been party to crucial emails that had only recently come to light. "He has still never seen these emails, but was made aware of their contents several weeks ago," said the friend.

Mr Crone gave evidence to MPs on phone hacking in 2009, and said then: "At no stage ... did any evidence arise that the problem of accessing by our reporters, or complicity of accessing by our reporters, went beyond the Goodman/Mulcaire situation." The lawyer also accompanied Ms Brooks when she let slip to MPs in 2003 that The Sun had paid police officers.

Mr Crone knows where many of Wapping's bodies are buried. With his lengthy blond hair, his fame has been boosted by numerous celebrity cases, including the News of the World's High Court defeat by Max Mosley. He claimed a success last year when the courts overturned a super-injunction brought by the former England captain John Terry.

Mr Crone, who also worked on defending a famous libel action brought by the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, Sonia Sutcliffe, against the NOTW, enjoyed his greatest victory over Jeffrey Archer, overturning the former Tory MP's libel win 14 years earlier.

A personal friend of the late silk George Carman, what made him different from many counterparts was his instinct for journalism. "One of his great strengths was that he found ways of getting stories into the paper, rather than keeping them out," said one former editor. Mr Crone, a former captain of the Press Golf Society known for his dry humour, would attend the leaving parties of old hacks and be invited to celebrity bashes organised by Ms Brooks and other bosses. Those attempting to contact him yesterday were greeted with the poetic voicemail: "This is Crone, not on the phone, please leave a message, after the tone."

"Come-uppance is a brilliant word," he once wrote, in an article for The Sun on Jonathan Ross and "preening celebrity peacocks" who take legal action against newspapers. Some will think that Mr Crone has now had his. Others will see him as the latest Wapping victim of friendly fire.