Why the Taylor settlement is still making headlines
Saturday 23 July 2011
Of all the ironies in the phone-hacking scandal, the deepest involves the Gordon Taylor settlement. Phone hacking produced some of the News of the World's sensational front pages and the likely downfall of many of its journalists.
But the story which could lead to the downfall of executives working for its owner News International is one that never appeared.
In July 2008, NI agreed to pay Mr Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, an extraordinarily large sum of money for a breach of his privacy and his silence: reportedly £425,000 damages and £220,000 costs.
For a civil privacy case, this was off the scale and, because it was so large, its disclosure two years ago posed the question whether News International was prepared to agree to it because Mr Taylor's case proved that hacking went beyond its jailed royal editor Clive Goodman. The paper's chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, not Mr Goodman, had called on Mr Taylor inquiring whether he was having an extra-marital affair with his legal adviser Jo Armstrong. He was not.
The mistake arose because Ms Armstrong had left Mr Taylor a message thanking him for the previous day. The sleazy NOTW hacks thought that Ms Armstrong was thanking him for bedding her; she was actually thanking him for speaking at her father's funeral.
It was an expensive mistake – and one on which the future of the Murdoch dynasty could hang.
This is because during questioning at the DCMS Committee in 2009, the Labour MP Tom Watson extracted the nugget that James Murdoch had authorised the Taylor settlement.
This week, Mr Murdoch told the committee that he had approved it because the costs of taking the case to court would be so high. Crucially – again under questioning from Mr Watson – he said he had not been aware of the "for Neville" transcripts at the time. The "For Neville" transcripts contained records of Mr Taylor's phone messages and might have been taken to have been intended for Mr Thurlbeck. (Amusingly, the police claimed to be mystified who "Neville" might be).
This week the affair took a new twist. Colin Myler, the NOTW's editor, and Tom Crone, its lawyer, said that Mr Murdoch was aware of the transcripts. If they are right, Mr Murdoch misled Parliament and, according to Mr Watson, may have been involved in conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by making a hush payment rather than reporting evidence of criminality to the police.
Mr Murdoch, who says he is sticking by his evidence, has been asked to explain himself to the DCMS Committee.
He and Messrs Myler and Crone cannot both be right. So many words, so much trouble, for a non-story.
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