With its competing themes of deception, betrayal and dynastic turmoil, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has long had a Shakespearean flavour. But until now none of its protagonists have gone so far as to offer themselves up as a naive but ultimately innocent fall guy in a tabloid drama worthy of the Bard himself.
Neville Thurlbeck, 50, the defunct paper's former chief reporter, yesterday took up the rhetorical tools with which he fashioned countless red-top scoops to portray himself as emerging from the shadows of a "bloody Jacobean revenge tragedy" to claim that his efforts to clear his name – and thus avoid the closure of his "vanquished leading lady" – had been thwarted by a core of nefarious flunkies in the Court of Murdoch.
The veteran reporter, arrested in April on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept voicemails and dismissed by News International this summer, told The Independent last week he had been approached by Scotland Yard to give evidence against his former employer.
But in an article for the trade journal Press Gazette, Mr Thurlbeck alleged he had provided his editor, Colin Myler, and the NOTW's chief lawyer, Tom Crone, with information about phone hacking in 2009 which exonerated him and contained a taped phone call implicating another senior journalist. Mr Thurlbeck claimed his dossier was withheld by Mr Crone and Mr Myler from senior managers, including James Murdoch, and that an unnamed "Polonius-type figure" had thwarted his attempts to show the material to NI's then chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.
Outlining what he described as his "alternative script" to the hacking drama which if followed would have left the tabloid "cleansed and chastened" but intact, the journalist with 21 years' experience at the top of Fleet Street's most fearsome scandal sheet said he was entering the stage "blinking and as nervous as a first-night ingenue".
Mr Thurlbeck said that after the revelations linking him to the so-called "for Neville" email containing transcripts of voicemails for the footballers' union boss Gordon Taylor, he had been "naive" to assume his evidence was passed to Mr Murdoch, adding that he "should have grown a spine" and approached Ms Brooks directly.
The reporter said he believed Mr Murdoch when he told MPs last week that – contrary to claims from Mr Myler and Mr Crone – he had not been aware of the full contents of the "for Neville email", before adding that because of his dismissal "I feel like booting him into the Thames and firing foam pies at his dad from a very large cannon".
Suggesting that turning down a potential offer of immunity from prosecution either "makes me a fool or an innocent man", Mr Thurlbeck said he would leave it to his fellow journalists to decide.
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