Colin Myler, the former editor of the News of the World who conducted the company's internal investigation into the extent of phone hacking at the newspaper, never saw crucial emails suggesting the practice was more widespread, it was claimed last night.
As the blame game in the upper echelons of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group turned vitriolic, an executive close to Mr Myler, who oversaw the closure of NOTW this weekend, said he had relied upon the unequivocal statement of another senior manager that the cache of emails had exonerated all staff beyond the disgraced royal editor Clive Goodman.
The Independent understands that Myler, who was appointed in 2007 following the resignation of Andy Coulson in the wake of Goodman's conviction for hacking the phones of members of the royal household, is suspicious that he is being "hung out to dry" by the current management of News International (NI). The 59-year-old former editor led his staff from the NOTW's building on Saturday night after supervising the publication of its final edition and publicly stated that his staff did not deserve what had happened to them.
The opening of a sharp divide between Myler and his former employer follows the revelation that NI produced an internal report in 2007 which allegedly found evidence that phone hacking by the private detective Glenn Mulcaire was more widespread at the NOTW than it had admitted. The report was based on a trawl of 2,500 company emails, conducted with the help of an external law firm.
Myler, who was placed in charge of the NOTW's internal inquiry into phone hacking, was named this week as one of five NI executives who had access to the report. In testimony to MPs in 2009, Myler said no evidence had been obtained to suggest that voicemail interception had spread beyond a single "rogue" reporter in the shape of Goodman.
Yesterday, an NI executive close to Myler told The Independent: "Colin was told by a senior News International executive after the trawl had been done: 'Good news, there is no smoking gun'. He took their word for it and that is why he gave the evidence which he did to the House of Commons select committee."
The first signs of a civil war between senior Murdoch executives comes after the disclosure last week that NI has passed to police a tranche of 300 of the 2,500 emails which appeared to show that journalists at the NOTW were paying police officers for information. Mr Coulson was arrested last week on suspicion of authorising corrupt payments.
It is understood that Myler believes he has been targeted by NI management following briefings to journalists that he was responsible for failing to report evidence alleged to implicate Mr Coulson. The executive said: "There is now a deliberate attempt in News International to make Colin the fall guy from all this. But it won't work. He never saw the emails. The question has to be asked who did and who knew what they contained."
The Independent understands that Tom Crone, the NOTW's senior lawyer, also did not see the email cache, whose analysis was overseen by NI's director of legal affairs, Jon Chapman. Mr Chapman has since left the company.
The dispute threatens once more to drag Les Hinton, one of Mr Murdoch's longest-serving and most trusted lieutenants, into the phone hacking scandal. The current chief executive of Dow Jones, one of most glittering jewels in the Murdoch crown, was the chairman of NI at the time of the 2007 internal report and gave an assurance to MPs later that year that a "full, rigorous internal inquiry" had been conducted which had left him convinced that hacking was restricted to Goodman. Mr Hinton went out of his way to point out that the investigation would continue under Myler.
The testimony to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee was the start of what became NI's "rogue reporter" defence that phone hacking was restricted entirely to Goodman and Mulcaire – a stance which was finally abandoned this January only when emails implicating another NOTW journalist were surrendered to Scotland Yard.
In further evidence to MPs in 2009, Mr Hinton said he remained happy that the NOTW had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to uncover any additional evidence and nothing had been found. He said the "efforts made to discover any other wrongdoing had been conscientious and thorough".
It is likely that the Dow Jones boss, whose role includes oversight of The Wall Street Journal, will be asked to explain those remarks to the judge-led public inquiry into hacking announced last week by David Cameron. Yesterday, Mr Hinton did not respond to requests for comment but James Murdoch, who succeeded him as chairman of NI, conceded last week that statements had been made to Parliament by unnamed company executives which were wrong.
Asked about Mr Hinton, Mark Lewis, the lawyer acting for several hacking victims including the family of Milly Dowler, said: "He's got lots of questions to answer. There is none so blind as those that will not see."