Phone-Hacking Was Widely Discussed at News of the World, According to its Former Reporter

Former News of the World reporter has alleged that phone hacking was widely discussed at the paper.

James Murdoch ordered the closure of the News of the World, Britain's best-selling Sunday paper, in July in the face of allegations of illegal eavesdropping and police bribery by its employees. The scandal has led to the resignation of a number of senior police officers and executives at News International, the British arm of News Corp. which ran the newspaper. Photo: James Genchi/Flickr.

In a letter written four years ago in an appeal against his dismissal from the tabloid, former royal reporter Clive Goodman said the practice of hacking was openly discussed until the then editor Andy Coulson banned open talk about it.

Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 along with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, said he had been told he could keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the newspaper — but was fired nonetheless after being sentenced to prison.

“This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor,” the Goodman letter said. “Other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.”

“[The paper’s top lawyer] Tom Crone and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea,” Goodman writes. “I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me.”

The claims are deeply damaging to Coulson, who has always maintained that he did not know about the hacking going on at his paper.

They are also politically perilous for David Cameron, who took Coulson as his spokesman on even as evidence mounted against him.

Moreover, they raise fresh danger for James and Rupert Murdoch, both of whom claimed to know nothing about hacking. Before the documents were released, the select committee for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced that it is “likely” to recall James Murdoch when Parliament resumes in September.

Other letters published by Parliament on Tuesday also cast fresh doubts on the credibility of News International’s claims about phone hacking. One, from the law firm Harbottle and Lewis, contradicts NI’s assertion that its 2007 investigation cleared the paper of any wrongdoing. In the new letter, Harbottle and Lewis says that it was only asked to confirm that “certain named individuals knew of and supported Mr. Goodman’s involvement in phone hacking activities…it was not retained to look for evidence of wider criminal activities and did not do so.”

John Whittingdale, who chairs the parliamentary committee, said after its members met Tuesday that he anticipated James Murdoch, as chairman of News International, would have more questions to answer on the phone-hacking issue.

“James Murdoch clearly is the man who is ultimately responsible for News International in this country,” he said, adding that Rupert Murdoch seemed to have less insight into the detail of the case.

James Murdoch ordered the closure of the News of the World, Britain’s best-selling Sunday paper, in July in the face of allegations of illegal eavesdropping and police bribery by its employees. The scandal has led to the resignation of a number of senior police officers and executives at News International, the British arm of News Corp. which ran the newspaper.

The committee will also write to Coulson, Brooks, former managing editor of News of the World Stuart Kuttner and Les Hinton, who was Brooks’ predecessor at News International, to ask if they wish to add to or amend any of the evidence they have previously given, the committee said.

The committee said Tuesday it would call News of the World’s former head of legal affairs Tom Crone and former editor Colin Myler to give further evidence on September 6, as well as News International’s ex-human resources director, Daniel Cloke, and its former director of legal affairs, Jon Chapman.

Tom Watson, the parliamentarian who has most doggedly pursued the scandal, told Sky News it could be months if not years before the full picture of what had happened at the newspaper emerged. “If this letter is accurate, the whole foundation of the company’s defence collapses,” he said.

Commenting on the newly released evidence from the committee, a News International statement said: “News Corporation’s board has set up a Management and Standards Committee, chaired by independent Chairman Lord Grabiner, which is co-operating fully with the Metropolitan Police and is facilitating their investigation into illegal voice mail interception at the News of the World and related issues.”

“We recognize the seriousness of materials disclosed to the police and Parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities,” the statement said.

Downing Street have also issued a statement. They say: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment – there is an ongoing police investigation and we have set up a judicial inquiry to establish the facts. The Prime Minister has made his thoughts on Andy Coulson clear.” [via Reuters, CNN and Huffpost]

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