James Murdoch's repeated assertion that he was never shown evidence that phone hacking at his company went beyond a "rogue reporter" was dramatically undermined last night. An internal email that he was sent, suggesting hacking was "rife" at the News Of The World and talking of a "nightmare scenario" of multiple victims, was released by a Commons committee.
The presumed heir to the Murdoch empire has insisted during two bruising appearances before MPs that he was not told of crucial information in 2008 that proved hacking was widespread at the Sunday tabloid. He accused the paper's former editor, Colin Myler, and its chief lawyer, Tom Crone, of being "misleading" when they said he was made privy to those details.
But a News International email released yesterday challenges those claims. It shows that Mr Murdoch, who was in charge of the media group at the time, was provided with a chain of messages from Mr Myler and Mr Crone accepting that the NOTW had made use of intercepted voicemails left for Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of Professional Footballers' Association, and was facing a disastrous prospect of a public claim that it had covered up the true extent of hacking.
In a sign of the seriousness with which Mr Myler was taking the situation, he offered Mr Murdoch an "update" and warned: "Unfortunately it is as bad as we feared." The line suggests that, contrary to Mr Murdoch's repeated recollection, both men had already discussed the case in some depth.
Mr Murdoch claimed last night that he had not read the full email because he received it on his BlackBerry on a Saturday afternoon and did not scroll through the exchange of four messages. He said the fact the email chain showed that he replied to its sender, Mr Myler, within "just over two minutes" supported his claim, and his key position that he was "not aware of evidence that... pointed to widespread wrongdoing" at the NOTW remained unchanged.
The email chain, disclosed by News International (NI) lawyers to the Commons Media Select Committee yesterday, was sent to Mr Murdoch just after 2.30pm on 7 June 2008. At the time, NI faced a serious threat to its attempt to keep a lid on the phone-hacking scandal by insisting the practice was restricted to its former royal editor, Clive Goodman, who was in jail for eavesdropping on royal aides' voicemails.
That threat came in the form of a damages claim from Mr Taylor, whose lawyers obtained a separate email containing the texts of messages left by and for him – which were transcribed by a junior NOTW reporter, Ross Hindley. The email became known as the "for Neville" email, because it was allegedly intended for the paper's chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck.
When it was shown to NOTW executives, including Mr Crone, they decided to offer a £725,000 settlement to Mr Taylor and approached Mr Murdoch, then executive chairman of NI, to authorise the payment. Mr Murdoch has insisted that the only substantive discussion he had with his executives about Mr Taylor's payout took place on 10 June, when he met Mr Myler and Mr Crone for 15 minutes in his office. In testimony to MPs last month, Mr Murdoch said his former executives' evidence – that they had told him about the full significance of the "for Neville" email – was "misleading".
The new email shows he was sent information three days earlier that went to the heart of the problems the NOTW faced in dealing with Mr Taylor's claim. Mr Myler, who asks Mr Murdoch if he and Mr Crone could have "five minutes with you on Tuesday", refers in the third line of what Mr Murdoch would have read, to an "extremely telling" note from Julian Pike, of law firm Farrer's, about the PFA boss's claim against the NOTW and its parent, News Group Newspapers.
In the text of that note sent on 6 June, copied at the bottom of the email, Mr Pike summarises Mr Taylor's demand that he be "vindicated or made rich" because of the hacking against him. Mr Pike said: "[Taylor] wants to demonstrate that what happened to him is/was rife throughout the organisation. He wants to correct the paper telling parliamentary enquiries that this was not happening when it was (NGN's line having been there was a rogue trader in [Clive Goodman])." In a letter to the committee, Mr Murdoch said: "Given the timing of my response, just over two minutes after Mr Myler had sent this email to me, and the fact that I typically received emails on my BlackBerry on weekends, I am confident I did not review the full email chain at the time or afterwards, nor do I recall a conversation with Mr Myler over that weekend."
He added that he stood by his earlier testimony to the committee.
The Labour MP Tom Watson, a leading member of the Media Select Committee, said: "This shows that Colin Myler raised his serious concerns about the Taylor case with James Murdoch. It shows the external lawyer to the company believed that Gordon Taylor sought to prove Parliament was misled. How can the company have just found this important email trail?"
Another Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who is claiming damages from NI, said: "These revelations show James Murdoch is slipshod as a manager and NI have been slippery with their evidence to Parliament. They knew, at the highest level, why they had to pay Gordon Taylor such a substantial sum because otherwise their whole cover-up would have been blown apart. The rogue reporter line was a lie and NI knew it."
Questions over Sienna Miller claim
News International held a discussion about a phone-hacking claim from Sienna Miller when the actress had yet to disclose her private plans to take legal action, the Leveson Inquiry heard yesterday.
Counsel for the victims whose phones were illegally accessed by the News of the World, David Sherborne, questioned NI's former independent legal adviser, Julian Pike, about a record of attendance document from a meeting which took place in May 2010.
Mr Sherborne asked Mr Pike how Ms Miller's name came up, when the Metropolitan Police had yet to be notified and a formal notification of complaint had not been lodged. Mr Pike could offer no explanation.
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