James Murdoch knew about phone hack email: legal chief

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The News of the World's ex-legal chief insisted on Tuesday that News Corp. executive James Murdoch knew about an email showing phone hacking at the now-defunct British tabloid was widespread.

James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and boss of the News Corp subsidiary that published the tabloid, told lawmakers in July he was unaware of the email which contradicted the company's stance that hacking was limited to one journalist.

But Tom Crone, former legal manager of the News of the World, said Tuesday that he informed Murdoch about the document in a 15-minute meeting in 2008, when they discussed a lawsuit brought against the paper alleging phone hacking.

"It was clear evidence that phone hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman," Crone said, referring to the newspaper's royal editor, who was jailed in 2007 for illegally accessing the mobile phone voicemails of royal aides.

"It was the reason we had to settle the case and in order to settle the case, we had to explain the case to Mr Murdoch and get his authority to settle, so clearly it was discussed."

The News of the World long maintained that hacking was limited to Goodman and a private detective, who was also jailed in 2007.

But the email, entitled "for Neville", is widely thought to implicate the paper's chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck in malpractices.

Crone's testimony heaped fresh pressure on James Murdoch, the latest focus in the phone-hacking scandal which prompted the closure in July of the 168-year-old News of the World, which had been Britain's biggest selling weekly.

The "for Neville" email is a transcript of hacked private information about Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, who was suing the News of the World for hacking into his mobile phone.

It was at a meeting to settle this case that James Murdoch was shown the email, which was sent in April 2008, Crone said.

Despite the paper's claims that hacking was limited to one rogue reporter, the police investigation was reopened this year amid a steady stream of new allegations and several arrests have been made.

The scandal escalated into a full-blown crisis earlier this year when claims emerged that a private investigator working for the paper hacked into the phone of a murdered teenager.

© 2011 AFP

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