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

16th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

British lawmakers released Tuesday a letter from a former News of the World journalist saying phone hacking was "widely discussed" at the tabloid, warning they could now recall James Murdoch to give evidence.

Clive Goodman, the paper's former royal editor who was jailed for hacking in 2007, also alleged that ex-editor Andy Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief, tried to cover up the scandal.

The letter released by parliament's media committee directly contradicts claims by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's top lieutentants, who repeatedly claimed that they were unaware of the hacking and that Goodman was a rogue reporter.

Tom Watson, a lawmaker on the committee, said the latest revelations were "devastating". Watson has led moves to probe the scandal, which has now claimed the jobs of two top policemen and several Murdoch executives.

The committee recalled four former Murdoch executives to testify on September 6 and said it may also recall James Murdoch, the tycoon's son, over alleged inconsistencies in his testimony at an earlier hearing in July.

Goodman's explosive accusation comes in a letter he wrote in March 2007 to appeal against his dismissal from the now-shuttered News of the World after being jailed for conspiring to hack the phones of members of the royal household.

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

He also accused Coulson, who edited the News of the World from 2003-2007, of offering not to sack him if he agreed not to drag Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper into the phone hacking row during his court case.

Goodman said 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 in January 2007 but he has always denied knowledge of phone hacking.

He went on to work for Cameron but resigned in January amid continuing allegations, just days before police reopened the probe into hacking.

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.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said it would be "inappropriate for us to comment on these reports" as there is an ongoing police investigation and Cameron had set up a judicial inquiry.

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

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch shut the News of the World in July after claims the tabloid had hacked the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl, as well as the families of dead British troops and the victims of terror attacks.

A spokesman for News International -- which is the British newspaper wing of US-based News Corp. and is headed by James Murdoch -- said it appreciated the "seriousness" of the claims.

"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 it would on September 6 recall Crone, former News of the World editor Colin Myler, News International human resources director Daniel Cloke and former legal director John Chapman.

"Depending on their evidence under questioning, the committee may also have further questions for James Murdoch and others," it said in a statement.

James and Rupert Murdoch gave evidence to the committee on July 19, in a hearing that was disrupted when a man hit the latter in the face with a foam pie.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale told reporters that 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."

James Murdoch had said 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. But Myler and Crone said he was "mistaken".

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article