MPs are to ask former News of the World executives this week whether phone-hacking victims have been offered substantially increased cash settlements from Rupert Murdoch's News International in return for signing gagging agreements.
The Independent understands that Tom Crone, the former head lawyer for the defunct newspaper, and Jonathan Chapman, NI's former head of legal affairs, will face questions from the Commons Media Select Committee about claims that the company has paid up to 10 times the normal settlement to successful hacking claimants who agree to a confidentiality clause.
James Murdoch admitted in a letter to the committee last month that Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, was paid £700,000 in 2008 in return for signing a confidentiality agreement. Mr Murdoch, who was chief executive of NI at the time, had previously insisted that the high payment had not been linked to a gagging clause.
MPs, who will also question the former NOTW editor Colin Myler and the former NI head of human resources Daniel Cloke at an evidence session tomorrow, want to know if the precedent set by Mr Taylor's case has been following in the burgeoning number of damages claims being brought against the company by celebrities and public figures.
Confidentiality clauses are common in legal settlements but it is claimed that offers of around £100,000 have been made where victims of voicemail interception sign the gagging deal while the offer made to claimants without the agreement can be as little as £10,000 or £20,000.
A source said: "These are dramatically different sums. Is News International seeking to buy the silence of claimants?"
A number of celebrities whose phone messages were targeted by the private detective Glenn Mulcaire on behalf of the defunct Sunday title have already reached settlements with NI, including the actress Sienna Miller and the football pundit Andy Gray, although neither of these cases involved a gagging clause.
NI announced in June this year that it was setting up a voluntary compensation scheme overseen by a former High Court judge in which "have the option of obtaining compensation on a confidential basis".
The company declined to comment further last night.
Murdoch's men facing questions
Tom Crone, former NOTW chief lawyer, and Colin Myler, former editor
Both men have emerged as the key critics of the testimony of James Murdoch to MPs in July, suggesting that the media mogul's son misled MPs when he said he had no recollection of the "for Neville" email that showed knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World spread beyond a single rogue reporter.
But they face questions about whether they knew about the alleged cover-up at the defunct newspaper, in particular because they were aware of the "for Neville" email, which they insist was discussed with Mr Murdoch.
Mr Crone will also be asked about his knowledge of the use of private investigators to look into the personal lives of lawyers bringing damages claims against the paper.
Jonathan Chapman, former NI head of legal affairs
He will be asked about a 2007 review of internal emails carried out by law firm Harbottle & Lewis. James Murdoch told MPs this review was relied upon to show NI had carried out a full investigation. Mr Chapman has written to MPs to say the review was nothing of the sort.
Daniel Cloke,former NI head of HR
He was the recipient of a letter in 2007 from the disgraced NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman stating that phone hacking was "widely discussed" during the paper's editorial meetings. MPs will want to know what action he took to ensure Goodman's claims were investigated.Reuse content