Leeveson Inquiry: Paul Barry on what James Murdoch knew about phone hacking at News of the World
Smoking gun No. 1: the For Neville email The first was the notorious “For Neville” email, which revealed that two NoTW reporters—Ross Hindley and Neville Thurbeck—had received transcripts of 32 of Taylors phone messages, hacked by the NoTWs pet private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.It need hardly be said that these journalists did not work for Goodman. Nor was Taylor a member of the Royal Family. So it was clearly not just one “rogue reporter” doing the hacking.Murdoch says in his latest letter to MPs: “I was not shown a copy of the email at the time”. He has previously told MPs on oath he was not even “aware” of the emails existence in 2008.Smoking gun No. 2: journalists were intimately involved The second smoking gun offered even more explicit warning that hacking was widespread. It came in the form of a legal opinion provided to News of the World lawyer Tom Crone by Michael Silverleaf QC on 3 June 2008, which concluded that at least three NoTW journalists were “intimately involved in Mr Mulcaires illegal researching”, that a “culture of illegal information access” existed at the paper, and that it could be “extremely damaging” if Taylors case went to trial.Murdoch says in his letter to MPs: “I never saw the opinion and nor, most importantly, was I aware of Mr Silverleaf QCs comments about widespread wrongdoing”.If this is true it is mind-boggling. As Tory MP Philip Davies told James when he appeared before the committee last November, “I find it incredible, absolutely incredible, that you didnt say, How much? Half-a-million pounds? Let me have a look at that. I cannot even begin to believe that course of action is one that any self-respecting chief executive, any self-respecting chief operating officer could possibly take with so much of the companys money and reputation at stake.”The MPs disbelief that day in the face of much of Murdoch said was almost palpable.Crone told the Leveson inquiry on oath in November that he took “a copy and probably spare copies” of Silverleafs legal opinion and the “For Neville” email into a meeting with James Murdoch on 10 June, at which it was decided to pay Taylor £700,000 to avoid the case going to court. He added: “I cant remember whether they were passed across the table to him but Im pretty sure I held up the front page of the email. I am also pretty sure he already knew about it … in that it had been described to him already.”Colin Myler, News of the World editor at the time, who was also in the meeting, backed Crones account, telling Leveson he had no reason to doubt Crones evidence, and adding, “Im pretty sure that he would have had … any relevant document that he felt that James may have asked to see or to be referred to.”Neville Thurbeck, the NoTWs former chief reporter, also corroborated Crone, telling Labour committee member Tom Watson MP that the lawyer had told him before the June 10 meeting that he intended to show James the “For Neville” email, and reported having done so afterwards.Even if one disbelieves the testimony of these three men and takes Jamess word against them, it is hard to believe Murdoch could be so incurious and so dim as to fail to discover what warnings the email and legal opinion contained.Moreover, if he really knew nothing of Silverleafs judgements and the damning implications of the “For Neville” email, why did he agree to pay Taylor £700,000, when the lawyers were telling him damages would almost certainly be less than £250,000?But the June 10 meeting was not Jamess only opportunity to find out that his single “rogue reporter” defence was a lie.Smoking gun No. 3: it is worse than we feared Three days earlier, Myler had sent Murdoch another smoking gun in the form of an email, asking for a meeting and briefing him on the Taylor case. This began, “Unfortunately it is worse than we feared”.