Cahal Milmo: The Wapping 'family' was breaking up before our eyes

 

At times yesterday the only sound coming out of the Wilson Room in the Palace of Westminster was the thunk of the buck being passed between senior figures who once ran Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire.

It will ultimately fall to Scotland Yard's huge Operation Weeting investigation and prosecutors to decide whether there is enough evidence of criminal actions to bring a case against those arrested (15 and counting) since April. But there is another, parallel battle going on here which is about the reputation of Murdoch lieutenants who are unlikely to face questions under police caution, but nonetheless find their deeds under close scrutiny and, crucially, the standing of the media mogul's global empire and that of his son, James.

None of the four men appearing yesterday – former News of the World chief lawyer Tom Crone, its former editor Colin Myler, former head of legal affairs for NI, Jonathan Chapman, and NI's former head of HR, Daniel Cloke – have been arrested. But, with the exception of Mr Myler, they had front row seats for how NI responded to the arrest and conviction of disgraced royal editor Clive Goodman and all of them were working in Fortress Wapping while the company persisted with its "one rogue reporter" defence and sought to keep a lid on the hacking affair.

Subsequently, what can be reasonably assumed to have been the crystal clear lines of managerial responsibility at NI and considerable powers of recall of its most formidable minds have become somewhat ... hazy.

The most high-profile of these battles of memory is the clash between the "certainty" of Mr Crone and Mr Myler that they left James Murdoch in no doubt about the existence of the "For Neville" email and its implications, and the one-time heir's blunt denial that they did anything of the sort.

But there were other disparities, including the insistence of Mr Cloke that Mr Myler had known all about a decision to pay Goodman £240,000 despite his summary dismissal from the company. The former editor, who was brought in to steady the NOTW ship and ended up presiding over its demise, insisted he had known nothing about it, describing Goodman's appeal against dismissal as "surreal".

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the most oft-repeated phrases of the day was: "Not that I can recall, no." Similarly, Mr Myler could not recall ordering a search of invoices relating to Goodman's work with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, referred to by Mr Cloke, while Mr Crone made it clear it was not him but Les Hinton, Rupert Murdoch's closest confidant and former NI chairman, who would have rubber-stamped the former royal editor's sizeable payoff.

In the midst of these shifting sands, Mr Chapman observed that there was a sense of "family" when Wapping comes to dealing with its journalists. On the basis of yesterday's performance, the break-up of that family is likely to get even messier than it is already.

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