Tuesday 6 September 2011

Former executives challenge Murdochs' testimony


Jonathan Chapman, the former director of legal affairs with News International, said Rupert Murdoch wasn't being accurate when he told Parliament that he blamed the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis for failing to uncover the scope of the hacking scandal back in 2007. News International is the British arm of Murdoch's global News Corp. media empire. "I don't think Mr. Murdoch had his facts right," Chapman told lawmakers. "He was wrong." Chapman was one of four executives fielding questions from Parliament's media committee about what they knew and when — and all have already cast doubt on key aspects of the testimony given by the Murdoch family earlier this summer. The hacking scandal has decimated Murdoch's British newspaper arm, leading to the closure of its top-selling Sunday tabloid, News of the World, and the arrests of more than a dozen journalists. It's also rocked the top levels of Britain's political and police elite. Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor and until recently one of Prime Minister David Cameron's top aides, has resigned — as have the two top officers with Scotland Yard. Coulson was one of 15 people arrested. Media committee chairman John Whittingdale says the latest hearing aims to uncover the truth about a critical piece of evidence, unearthed in 2008, suggesting that voicemail interception at the News of the World was far more widespread than the tabloid claimed at the time. Questions about who saw the evidence are critical to establishing whether there was an attempt to cover up the scale of illegal behavior at the now-defunct tabloid. The News of the World stands accused of spying on a host of politicians, celebrities, top athletes, crime victims and even terrorism survivors by systematically intercepting voicemail messages in an effort to get scoops. Allegations of computer hacking and police bribery are also being investigated by Scotland Yard. The evidence in question was an email carrying the transcript of an illegally intercepted conversation and marked "for Neville" — an apparent reference to the News of the World's chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck. Because it apparently implicates others in the hacking, the email has the potential to undermine News International's fiercely held contention that one reporter alone, Clive Goodman, had engaged in phone hacking. If Rupert Murdoch's son James knew about the email — and was aware of its implication — it would lend weight to the suggestion that he had approved a massive payoff to one employee in an effort to bury the scandal. James Murdoch has said earlier that he was not aware of the email at the time, but former News International legal adviser Tom Crone and Colin Myler, a former editor at News of the World, contradicted him in Tuesday's testimony. "I told him about the document," Crone insisted, adding there could be no doubt that "this document meant that News of the World had a wider problem and that we had to get out of it." Daniel Cloke, News International's former personnel director, also contradicted James Murdoch's contention that he and Chapman had approved the massive compensation awarded to Goodman, the disgraced reporter. One lawmaker has alleged that payment was made to buy Goodman's silence about the scale of phone hacking at the paper. Cloke and Chapman said it was Murdoch's right-hand man, Les Hinton, who signed off on the quarter million pound payout. Hinton, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, was the most senior Murdoch executive to resign in the hacking scandal.