News Corp. (NWSA)’s external lawyer told the company the names of three reporters who may have been “intimately involved” in phone hacking at the News of the World newspaper in 2008, as James Murdoch discussed how much to offer a victim in an out-of-court settlement.
Correspondence and notes from 2008 between Julian Pike of Farrer & Co. and two News Corp. executives in London, published by a U.K. Parliament committee today, show the men discussing how to handle evidence about the reporters. The documents related to a lawsuit brought by Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, whose phone had been hacked three years earlier.
“Our position is very perilous,” Tom Crone, the newspaper’s lawyer, wrote to News of the World editor Colin Myler, as the editor prepared to brief Murdoch on the case. “The damning e-mail is genuine and proves we actively made use of a large number of extremely private voice mails from Taylor’s telephone.”
Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, will testify to the Culture Committee for a second time next week about his role in the five-year-old scandal. When Murdoch appeared before the panel in July, he said there was no reason to suspect illegality had gone beyond a single reporter until late 2010. The new documents show both Pike and Crone knew in 2008 that the Taylor case implicated more reporters.
The accelerating crisis prompted News Corp. in July to close the 168-year-old tabloid and drop its 7.8 billion-pound ($12.4 billion) bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc. (BSY)
“James Murdoch has been clear and consistent in his testimony,” News Corp. said in an e-mailed statement today. “He is appearing in front of the select committee on Nov. 10 and will be happy to answer any further questions then.”
The documents confirm Pike’s evidence to the committee on Oct. 19, when he revealed a previously unknown meeting between Myler and Murdoch over the Taylor case on May 27, 2008. Pike’s notes of a conversation with Myler later that day showed Murdoch seeking a formal legal opinion.
Exactly what Crone and Myler told Murdoch is disputed. Murdoch said in July that he wasn’t told about an e-mail unearthed by Taylor’s lawyers that implicated other reporters in phone-hacking. Crone said in September he was “certain” he had told Murdoch about it.
In his 2008 briefing note for Myler, Crone referred to a list of named News of the World journalists Taylor’s lawyers had obtained from a probe by the Information Commissioner into reporters illegally obtaining people’s data. “A number of these names are still with us, and some of them have moved to prominent positions on NoW and The Sun,” another News Corp. newspaper, he wrote. “Typical infringements are ‘turning round’ car reg. and mobile phone numbers (illegal).”
On June 3, 2008, a trial lawyer, Michael Silverleaf, submitted a legal opinion on the case to Crone at Pike’s request. Silverleaf advised that Taylor’s evidence put into “considerable doubt” the company’s statement that a private investigator convicted of phone-hacking in 2007, Glenn Mulcaire, had been employed to do legitimate work for the paper.
Silverleaf said Taylor was likely to say that Mulcaire “was specifically employed” to “engage in illegal information gathering.” He said he “could not imagine” the company “wishes this kind of allegation to be given any more publicity.”
‘Line in the Sand’
Pike’s notes make it clear News Corp. wanted to keep the settlement quiet. The same day as Silverleaf gave his view, Pike contacted Taylor’s lawyer and offered to settle for 350,000 pounds ($560,000). “The client was willing to pay more -- not a stratospheric amount -- to resolve it this week on the basis that drew a line in the sand and that the deal was confidential,” Pike wrote. The case was finally settled for 425,000 pounds.
Silverleaf’s note identified two of the reporters implicated in phone-hacking as Greg Miskiw and Ross Hindley. The third name was obscured in the copy submitted to the panel of lawmakers. In what may be a reference to the three journalists, Myler said, according to Pike’s notes: “James wld (sic) say get rid of them -- cut out cancer.”
Both Miskiw and Hindley have been arrested as part of the police-hacking probe.
An e-mail sent by Crone to Pike is at odds with Crone’s 2009 evidence to the committee. He said then he had confronted Neville Thurlbeck, one of the newspaper’s reporters, about a transcript of Taylor’s voice mails headed “For Neville.”
Crone said Thurlbeck told him he had been briefed on a possible story about Taylor only at the end of an investigation and told to put it to one of the subjects. “His position is that he has never seen that e-mail, nor had any knowledge of it.”
According to the documents released today, Crone wrote to Pike a year earlier that a reporter, whose name is blanked out, “now remembers the transcripts... He was give (sic) the story only at the end to do the showdown and write it up.”
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