Phone-hacking at News Corp.’s News of the World was so widespread that the tabloid’s editors knew of the practice and sometimes listened to intercepted messages, a former reporter told a U.K. inquiry into press ethics.
Former editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who were arrested in July, have thrown reporters “to the wolves” by denying the extent of the practice, former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan told the judge-led inquiry in London today.
Brooks and Coulson “should have had the strength of their convictions” and admitted the newspaper used illegal news-gathering practices, McMullan said. “How dare they throw us to the wolves.” Neither Coulson or Brooks have been charged.
News Corp., based in New York, closed the News of the World in July to help contain the five-year-old scandal after it was revealed phone-hacking wasn’t limited to a single “rogue” reporter jailed in 2007, as the company’s British unit had claimed. London police have made 18 arrests since reopening a probe of the practice in January, and starting separate investigations into computer hacking and police bribery.
Brooks’ spokeswoman Emma Capon declined to comment when reached by phone today. Coulson’s lawyer, Jo Rickards of DLA Piper, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
Brooks has previously denied knowing about phone hacking at the newspaper.
McMullan, who was reminded repeatedly not to incriminate himself, said the News of the World paid police for information and defended the use of phone-hacking, saying the newspaper was “littered” with evidence of it. Jailing reporters for such actions would put Britain on the same level as China, Iran and Turkey, he said.
“Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool if all we’re trying to do is get to the truth,” McMullan said. “Colleagues are under arrest and all they’ve ever tried to do was write the truth.”
Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for News Corp.’s News International unit, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called for the inquiry in July to study the relationship between the press and the public and determine if new regulations are needed. U.K. newspapers currently regulate themselves, a system deemed to be flawed by phone-hacking victims.
Guardian newspaper reporter Nick Davies told the same inquiry today that journalists at the News of the World were instructed on how to hack into mobile-phone voice mails by the newspaper’s former private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who was also jailed in 2007. Davies, whose exposed the extent of phone-hacking at the tabloid, said Mulcaire helped reporters hack into the messages of murdered school girl Milly Dowler in 2002.
“Mulcaire facilitated the hacking by one or more News of the World journalists,” Davies said. The reporters then had to “delete the messages in order to enable more to come through.” That gave the Dowler family false hope she was alive, he said.
McMullan said the hacking of Dowler’s phone “wasn’t a bad thing” because it was done by well-meaning journalists.
“Our intentions were honorable,” McMullen said. “We were doing our best to find the little girl. The police are incompetent.”
During the inquiry, lawyers and witnesses have told Judge Brian Leveson phone hacking may have occurred at other publications, including the Sun, Trinity Mirror Plc’s Daily Mirror and Daily Mail & General Trust Plc’s Mail on Sunday.
Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, a News of the World reporter, were jailed for intercepting phone messages meant for members of Prince Charles’ staff and for Gordon Taylor, chief executive officer of the Professional Footballers Association. Police have said more than 5,000 people may have been targeted.
Davies said today he knew the identity of a third person arrested with Mulcaire and Goodman, and whose notes were seized as part of the investigation.