A lawyer who reviewed e-mails about phone hacking at News Corp. (NWSA)’s News of the World told a media inquiry that he would not have cleared the tabloid of wrongdoing if he had seen all of the e-mails submitted by the company.
Lawrence Abramson, the former Harbottle & Lewis lawyer who determined in 2007 and that the e-mails didn’t support allegations of widespread phone hacking, said his staff didn’t show him all of the 2,500 e-mails. He told the media inquiry that if he had seen all of the material, his analysis would be “different.”
Harbottle & Lewis’s review was one of three “pillars” News Corp. officials, including Chairman Rupert Murdoch, said they relied on when denying that phone-hacking had gone beyond a single reporter and private investigator at the News of the World. Revelations in July that the paper accessed messages on a dead school girl’s mobile phone, led the company to close the 168-year-old weekly tabloid.
Testifying before the so-called Leveson Inquiry in London today, Abramson was asked by Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, about a selection of 2003 e-mails that were never brought to his attention by subordinates during his 2007 review.
“Have you since seen the 2003 e-mails?” Jay asked him. “Yes,” Abramson replied.
“Had you seen those e-mails back in May 2007 would your advice have been the same or different?” Jay continued.
“Different,” Abramson answered.
Abramson was asked by News Corp.’s U.K. unit to review the e-mails after the News of the World royal family reporter convicted of phone hacking, Clive Goodman, asked for his job back in 2007.
Goodman said, as part of his bid to reclaim his position, that phone hacking was widely accepted among editors at the paper. In response, News International’s director of human resources gathered a series of e-mails between Goodman and some editors for review.
Jonathan Chapman, a lawyer for the News International unit, asked Abramson, then with Harbottle & Lewis, to review the 2,500 e-mails to determine whether or not there was any merit to Goodman’s claim.
Abramson testified today that several subordinates reviewed the bulk of the e-mails and he only looked at a small subset called to his attention by Chapman. He ultimately sent an opinion to the company saying that the e-mails tended to support News International’s view that Goodman’s claims had no merit.
While Harbottle’s review was limited to the assertions made by Goodman, Murdoch and his son James, former chief executive officer of News International, told U.K. lawmakers this summer that they relied on the law firm’s findings to buttress their claims that phone hacking at News of the World was limited to a “rogue reporter.”
Harbottle & Lewis told parliament that the 2007 exercise was never intended to be used for the larger purpose of defending News of the World against charges of phone hacking.