Met offers NOTW journalist a lifeline: turn supergrass against paper and you'll go free

Detectives approach former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck in bid to secure vital evidence

The former chief reporter of the News of the World has been approached by Scotland Yard to give potentially vital evidence in the phone hacking scandal against his former employer.

Neville Thurlbeck, right, a key figure in the crisis that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News International (NI), told The Independent that detectives from a specialist Yard unit met him last week and asked him to consider turning "Queen's evidence" in return for possible immunity from prosecution.

The move represents a dramatic twist in Operation Weeting, the Metropolitan Police inquiry into voicemail interception at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid, suggesting that 11 months of investigation has led detectives to conclude that Mr Thurlbeck is more useful as a potential witness against senior figures in the Murdoch empire.

A total of 16 people, including Mr Thurlbeck, former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks and former NOTW editor Andy Coulson, have been arrested on suspicion of taking part in a phone- hacking conspiracy at the title. But with many suspects bailed until next March, it is understood the investigation, which has so far uncovered the names of 5,800 possible victims and has at least 11,000 pages of evidence, still has a long way to run.

Mr Thurlbeck, who worked for 21 years as a reporter and a news executive on the NOTW, last night revealed he had rejected the proposal and believes he will be exonerated by police inquiries or as a result of any court proceedings.

The Yard declined to comment on Mr Thurlbeck's statement despite being provided with specific details of the specialist-witness unit from which officers had met him, he said, last Friday in central London. Mr Thurlbeck was arrested in April along with the NOTW's former news editor Ian Edmondson on suspicion of conspiring to unlawfully intercept mobile-phone messages.

Mr Thurlbeck said: "I have informed Scotland Yard that while I fully understand and respect the reason for their request of me to give evidence for the Crown in any prosecution arising from Operation Weeting, it is my opinion that a detailed and forensic inquiry into my working methods by what is a highly professional police unit will fully exonerate me. So... I have declined their offer."

Any move by Operation Weeting to secure a "supergrass" witness after 11 months of investigation will be seen as an attempt to fast-track the obtaining of evidence to establish how widespread the culture of hacking was inside the NOTW. Mr Thurlbeck, who worked under Ms Brooks and Mr Coulson while both were editors of the NOTW, has previously insisted that he took "no part" in voicemail interception despite his name being on the so-called "for Neville" email which contained transcripts of private messages left by the footballers' union boss, Gordon Taylor.

The disclosure of the email in 2008 proved for the first time that hacking was not restricted to a single "rogue" reporter at the NOTW and led to James Murdoch approving a £725,000 out-of-court settlement with Mr Taylor. But Mr Thurlbeck has consistently denied ever commissioning or receiving its contents and it is likely that the origins of the "for Neville" email are one of the areas in which he could be asked to give evidence.

It is understood that police made the approach to Mr Thurlbeck after officers seized evidence from his west London home, including a tape recording and a memo to former NOTW editor Colin Myler and the paper's legal manager Tom Crone in which the identity is revealed of the executive he believes is responsible for commissioning the hacking the phone of Mr Taylor.

The Independent understands that Mr Thurlbeck compiled a dossier of evidence which he submitted to Mr Myler and Mr Crone two years ago.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor