Wednesday 14 March 2012

The former chief reporter of the News of the World was arrested yesterday by police investigating the phone hacking scandal, on suspicion of intimidating a witness.

Neville Thurlbeck, 50, who was also news editor on the defunct Sunday tabloid, was detained by appointment at a central London police station by officers from Operation Weeting a day after his former editor, Rebekah Brooks, was arrested with five others on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. He was later released on bail. Yesterday's arrest came as James Murdoch used a letter to the House of Commons media select committee to distance himself once more from any wrongdoing inside News International (NI). He blamed two former trusted lieutenants, Colin Myler and Tom Crone, claiming there were "inconsistencies" in their evidence to MPs. Mr Thurlbeck has been a central figure in the unfolding phone-hacking saga since being named in the so-called "for Neville" email. This showed voicemail interception went beyond a single "rogue" reporter at the NOTW. He was arrested last year on suspicion of conspiring to hack phones and eavesdropping voicemail messages. During recent months, he has adopted a higher media profile, with broadcast appearances and the launch of a blog commenting on developments in the crisis enveloping NI. In a blog entry last week, Mr Thurlbeck revealed how Will Lewis, a key member of News Corp's Management and Standards Committee, which has been marshalling millions of internal NI emails to Scotland Yard, had hired a private security company to provide security at his home. Mr Thurlbeck published the name of the security company, noting that it had spent several hours at Mr Lewis's home, and gave the name of the street where the NI executive lives. In a subsequent blog, Mr Thurlbeck, who is suing his former employer for unfair dismissal, said his story had prompted approaches from lawyers and a public relations company representing Mr Lewis, asking for the removal of his posting. He claimed it was suggested to him that the details he had provided about the security company "somehow implied I had put [Mr Lewis's] home under surveillance. Bonkers!". He added: "I accepted their point that printing the name of his street was distressing to his family and took this down immediately as I have absolutely no wish to do this. Although I have not been asked to do so, I would like to apologise to Mrs Lewis for any distress." A spokesman for the Management and Standards Committee declined to comment last night on Mr Thurlbeck's arrest. Meanwhile Mr Murdoch has sought to influence the parliamentary report into phone hacking, which is expected to be published before the Easter recess, by telling the committee that he did not mislead them, that he never tried to hide wrongdoing at the NOTW, and that when he did ask questions about what was going on, he was given "false assurances" by senior executives at Wapping. In a personal letter to John Whittingdale, chair of the media select committee, the former executive chairman of NI initially takes responsibility "for not uncovering wrongdoing earlier". However, the limited apologetic tone of his seven page letter, in which he accepts that it "would have been better if I had asked more questions", also contains evidence of anger directed at former trusted lieutenants inside NI. He says he relied too much on people who assured him that investigations had been carried out and who claimed that further inquiries were unnecessary. The former NOTW editor, Colin Myler, and News Group Newspaper's former legal manager, Tom Crone, are named repeatedly and described as offering "inconsistencies" to Parliament, while Mr Murdoch says his own evidence "has always been consistent". The letter states: "The truth is that incomplete answers and what now appears to be false assurances were given to the questions that I asked." In summaries of earlier evidence to the committee, he says he was "never intimately involved with the workings of the NOTW"; and on key meetings that discussed how senior executives were dealing with the emerging hacking culture, he says: "I was given a narrower set of facts than I should have been given..." He also says that if "Messrs Crone and Myler" had given him the highly critical private opinion offered in 2008 by NI's leading counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, which described "widespread wrongdoing", then he would have "acted differently". He ends his letter by repeating that he neither knew about, nor attempted to hide, wrongdoing, and tells MPs: "The evidence does not support any other conclusion." James Murdoch: What he wrote "I take my share of responsibility for not uncovering wrongdoing earlier. However, I have not misled Parliament. I did not know about, nor did I try to hide, wrongdoing. I do not believe the evidence before you supports any other conclusion..." "It has been said I did not ask enough questions. However, the truth is that incomplete answers and what now appears to be false assurances were given to the questions that I asked."