Lawyers 'furious' over criticism in hacking scandal

Law firm to 'explain its position' to police after Murdoch accuses it of making a 'massive mistake'

Senior lawyers at royal solicitors Harbottle & Lewis are "furious" at the way they have been blamed by Rupert Murdoch and others in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, The Independent on Sunday has learned. They will meet the Metropolitan Police to explain their position "in the next few days".

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation, said the prominent London law firm had made a "massive mistake" when it gave the publishers of the News of the World a clean bill of health as to whether there was more illegality to be uncovered at the company at that time.

It is believed that Mr Murdoch also criticised the lawyers in a private meeting with Milly Dowler's family earlier this month, when he apologised for the newspaper hacking their dead daughter's mobile phone and deleting text messages, giving the family false hope that she might still be alive.

Harbottle & Lewis declared in May 2007 that there was no "reasonable evidence" that senior News International staff knew about the illegal activities of former royal reporter Clive Goodman. They had been called in by the Murdochs and asked to examine as many as 2,500 emails sent by the reporter, who was jailed in January 2007 for hacking phones belonging to aides of Prince William.

News International (NI) has used the Harbottle letter of exoneration as a shield to fend off allegations that it covered up the widespread nature of illegal activities which continued to be practised by News of the World staff.

It later emerged that the emails did contain evidence of illegal payments to the police, though seemingly not of hacking. When NI recently obtained a second opinion on the emails from Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, he concluded within minutes that there was possible evidence of criminal activity and advised NI to call the police. James Murdoch later told MPs that they relied on the letter to "push back" against fresh allegations of hacking.

The Murdoch claims have infuriated Harbottle & Lewis so much that some senior figures at the firm are understood to have discussed taking legal action for defamation. The firm was initially barred from explaining its position because of client confidentiality, but NI later lifted this restriction. Harbottle will now speak to the police and the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee. A source close to the firm confirmed it "actively asked to be released from the obligations of privilege".

Yesterday, The New York Times (NYT) reported that both NI and Harbottle were clearly aware of the contents of the emails when the exculpatory letter was written. According to the paper, in one email Clive Goodman warns that those involved could "go to prison for this".

Despite this, the Harbottle letter makes no reference to payments to the police.

The letter was commissioned after a threat from Goodman to sue NI for unfair dismissal on the grounds that senior executives knew about the phone-hacking. There was, according to The NYT, citing sources familiar with the incidents, "huge anxiety" about the precise wording. NI urged the law firm to write a letter giving it a clean bill of health in the strongest possible terms. Jon Chapman, NI's head of legal affairs, reportedly rejected two earlier drafts as being insufficiently broad. One person familiar with the correspondence is reported to have said that the lawyers involved seemed to struggle to find language that said the review had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Another Harbottle source added: "If we made any mistakes, we will hold our hands up, but we are extremely keen to protect our reputation and we will vigorously challenge any suggestion that we were in any sort of cahoots with News International."

Tomorrow, Labour leader Ed Miliband will attempt to step up pressure on the coalition about its role in the hacking scandal. Mr Miliband will send letters to David Cameron, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable asking about the Government's links to News International, the handling of the BSkyB bid and the employment of Andy Coulson.

"The signs are that David Cameron still does not get it," said Ivan Lewis, Labour's culture spokesman. "A tangled web of their own making will not go away until they and their Cabinet colleagues give full and frank answers to legitimate questions."

But Labour's hopes of further capitalising on the scandal appear hampered by the release of details of a string of meetings and social events attended by senior party figures with News International bosses.

Mr Miliband met NI editors and executives, including the former chief executive Rebekah Brooks, 12 times after the general election.

In all, Labour frontbenchers, including Douglas Alexander, Tessa Jowell and Shaun Woodward, met News International in some form 60 times since May 2010.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London