Rupert Murdoch has sent a team of external American lawyers to Britain to investigate the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World.
The Independent understands that a group of independent investigative attorneys were dispatched to London to oversee the trawl through all evidence held by the company to establish who knew what and when.
The revelation suggests growing tensions between News Corporation's corporate leadership in New York and the company's London management. Earlier internal inquiries by News International claimed they had found “no evidence” that anyone other than the NoTW royal editor Clive Goodman had been involved in the hacking, having overseen a trawl through “thousands” of emails.
Those inquiries directly involved the present editor, Colin Myler who has been sidelined from the current investigation. Sources close to the paper said that a “complete firewall” had been put around the NoTW with the paper not being privy to most details of the external investigation. News Corporation denies this.
The American attorneys are in addition to a firm of UK lawyers, BCL Burton Copeland, who specialise in commercial fraud and business crime and are investigating the hacking claims.
BCL Burton Copeland are working for News Corp’s British subsidiary News International while the American attorneys are working – and reporting back to - the News Corp board in the US directly. There numbers are said to have varied over the last few months – with at one stage four working on the case.
The company feels that its strategy of setting up a compensation scheme for victims of phone hacking to avoid civil cases had been broadly successful, but it is deeply concerned about the growing criminal investigation over which it has no control. Part of the job of the US lawyers may be to advise News Corp management in New York of any possible further criminal breaches.
News Corporation sources refused to comment on the involvement of the American team. But one said: "News Corp employs internal and external counsel who work internationally for the company, including in the UK, as and when they are required to do so. They regularly liaise with their counterparts in the UK to keep News Corp directors and executives updated on issues of importance to the company.”
On Tuesday the company offered "sincere apologies" to the actress Sienna Miller and agreed to pay her compensation of £100,000 for intercepting her voicemail messages. But just a day later, news came that a private detective who worked for the NoTW may have been intercepting bank account details and other personal information on others, including Kate Middleton, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson. Scotland Yard has set up a team to look at the new allegations.
News Corp also announced this week that its most senior in-house attorney is to leave the company "to pursue new opportunities". Lawrence Jacobs was the highest ranking legal officer in the media conglomerate during the period covered by the hacking scandal. It is not known if he had any involvement in the original investigation into hacking which claimed to have found no evidence of widespread hacking.
But there is concern that very senior executives could be damaged by the continuing revelations. Rebekah Brookes, now chief executive of News International, was herself a former editor of both the NoTW and The Sun. There is no evidence that she had any knowledge of phone hacking but she is a close friend of Andy Coulson the former editor of the NoTW who resigned over the scandal.
Equally, Les Hinton, chief executive of Dow Jones, the News Corp subsidiary that runs The Wall Street Journal, oversaw the original investigation which found no evidence of widespread wrongdoing at the company.
He told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee after the original inquiry: “We brought in a firm of solicitors and there were many, many conversations with the police. There was never firm evidence provided or suspicion provided that I am aware of that implicated anybody else other than Clive within the staff of the News of the World.”
In April, the company said: “It is now apparent that our previous inquiries failed to uncover important evidence and we acknowledge our actions then were not sufficiently robust.”