Hacking 'widely discussed' at Murdoch tabloid: ex-reporter

16th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

A disgraced former News of the World journalist said phone hacking was "widely discussed" at the tabloid and ex-editor Andy Coulson sought to cover it up, according to a bombshell letter published Tuesday.

Clive Goodman, who was jailed for hacking in 2007, alleged that Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief, had offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate in court the newspaper in phone hacking.

The British parliament's media committee published the letter warning that it may recall James Murdoch, son of the media tycoon, to testify again after doubts were raised about evidence he gave to them at a hearing in July.

Tom Watson, a lawmaker who sits on the committee, said the latest revelations were "devastating" for James Murdoch.

They reignite a scandal that has already claimed the jobs of two of Britain's senior policemen and several of Rupert Murdoch's top aides, and led to the arrests of 12 people since a police probe was reopened in January.

The explosive accusation comes in a letter written by Goodman in March 2007 to appeal against his dismissal from the now-shuttered News of the World after being imprisoned for hacking the phones of royals and celebrities.

"This practice (phone hacking) was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor (Coulson)," Goodman wrote.

He added that the newspaper's senior legal manager, Tom Crone, and Coulson "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.

"I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise."

Coulson resigned as editor after Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire were jailed and he, like other Murdoch executives, has always denied any knowledge of phone hacking.

He went on to work for Cameron as media chief, but was forced to resign in January amid continuing allegations that the practice of phone hacking went beyond one rogue reporter while he was at the helm.

Coulson was arrested on July 8 on suspicion of phone-hacking and bribing police. Goodman was rearrested the same day on suspicion of police bribery. Both were bailed until later this year.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said it would be "inappropriate for us to comment on these reports -- there is an ongoing police investigation and we have set up a judicial inquiry to establish the facts."

But it recalled that Cameron has promised to issue a "profound apology" if it turned out that Coulson had lied, and has admitted that with hindsight he would not have offered Coulson the job.

News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch shut the News of the World, formerly Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper, in July after it emerged the tabloid had hacked the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl and the families of dead British soldiers.

A spokesman for News International, the British newspaper wing of Murdoch's media empire which is headed by James Murdoch, said it recognised the "seriousness" of the claims and was cooperating with police.

"We recognise 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 spokesman said.

But the parliamentary media committee said some former News International employees would be recalled to give more evidence -- and James Murdoch could follow.

"The evidence that was given to us by James Murdoch specifically in that hearing a few weeks ago, we then were told by several individuals that they disagreed with it," committee chairman John Whittingdale told reporters.

Some of those people would be asked to return to give evidence, he said, "and when we have all that information and the answers to the questions I think it likely that we'll want to put those to James Murdoch again."

Colin Myler, the last editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, the former News International legal manager, said James Murdoch was "mistaken" in his testimony to the committee alongside his father on July 19.

James Murdoch had told lawmakers that he was unaware of an email suggesting knowledge of hacking went wider than Goodman and Mulcaire when he authorised a payout to an alleged victim.

That hearing was disrupted when a man hit Rupert Murdoch in the face with a foam pie.

© 2011 AFP

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