Ex-News of the World lawyer denies "culture of cover-up"

The former legal manager at the News of the World has denied a “culture of cover-up” at the paper in settling a phone hacking claim in 2008.

Tom Crone told the Leveson Inquiry today that News International’s payout to Professional Footballers Association boss Gordon Taylor over a phone hacking claim was made to avoid “reputational damage” from bad publicity. Taylor was eventually paid over £700,000 by NI in 2008, in payment authorised by News Corp boss James Murdoch.

Crone also reiterated his assertion that Murdoch was made aware of “direct and hard evidence” that phone hacking went beyond “one rogue reporter”, saying he had shown Murdoch a copy of the “damning email” that implicated other News of the World reporters in the practice at a 2008 meeting.

Yet, in a letter to MPs released yesterday, Murdoch said he had not read a key email sent to him in June of the same year by former editor Colin Myler that indicated the practice was not limited to one journalist.

When asked by Lord Justice Leveson if the hacking allegations raised concerns about how NI approached ethical compliance, Crone replied that, in alerting Murdoch, he had notified the highest levels of the company.

“I didn’t see corporate compliance as really within my role,” Crone said, adding that ultimate responsibility lay with Murdoch.

However, former director of legal affairs at News International, Jonathan Chapman, told the Inquiry he believed compliance was within Crone’s remit and “would have been picked up by lawyers on the editorial side”.

Reiterating his tesimony from yesterday, Crone also denied knowing that Derek Webb, who was hired by the News of the World in 2010 to survey two lawyers for phone hacking victims, was a private detective. While he admitted he knew Webb was a former policeman, he repeated he was under the impression he was an accredited freelance journalist, with the paper urging Webb to join the National Union of Journalists.

Crone argued surveillance was standard practice in journalism, arguing that “there’s not a newspaper in the country that doesn’t occasionally or regularly watch people.”

It was also revealed that in one email from former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner, Webb was referred to as “silent shadow”, though Crone denied that this indicated Webb was an investigator.

This afternoon the Inquiry heard from former editor Colin Myler, who joined the tabloid in 2007 after the resignation of Andy Coulson in the wake of the 2006 phone hacking scandal. In a lengthy back-and-forth with counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, Myler reiterated the steps he took to “change” the culture of the paper, which he described as “laddish”. Upon joining the paper he ordered all cash payments be recorded and have a “compelling justification”, and notified staff that the use of private investigators was only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

“Whatever acts that individuals took part in, the full force of the law should take care of them,” Myler said.

He added that he did not recognise the picture painted of the tabloid by Paul McMullan as one where blagging, phone hacking and “doing rather disagreeable things” was rife.

Yet Jay was keen to remind him of some of the paper’s questionable coverage under his editorship, namely the paper’s 2008 splash on Max Mosley, in which the ex-Formula 1 boss was accused of partaking in a Nazi-themed orgy. To Lord Justice Leveson’s amazement, Myler defended publishing the Mosley video on the paper’s website, arguing it was “custom” and not playing to “prurient interest”.

He conceded, however, that he should have reprimanded chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck over contentious emails sent at news editor Ian Edmonson’s request to two women involved in the orgy about a follow-up story. In agreement with Leveson, Myler said the messages were “totally inappropriate”.

He was also pressed about the paper’s 2008 publication of Kate McCann’s dairies on her missing daughter, Madeleine. Asked why he did not seek the McCanns’ consent before publishing, Myler said he was assured Edmonson had made the family’s spokesman aware of the story. Had she known, Myler said, he would not have published. “I felt very bad that she didn’t know,” he said.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with further evidence from Myler, as well as private investigator Derek Webb and Daniel Sanderson, a former News of the World reporter whose name appeared on the story about McCann’s diaries.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.

Crone advised News of the World on phone hacking in 2004

The former legal manager at the now defunct News of the World has told the Leveson Inquiry he first advised the paper on phone hacking in 2004, two years before the first arrests were made in relation to the practice.

After being pressed by an impatient Lord Justice Leveson, Tom Crone, visibly concerned about breaching legal privilege, revealed that he had advised the paper on the practice two years before the then royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and later convicted for hacking into the phones of members of the Royal family.

With Leveson anxious not to prejudice the ongoing criminal investigation into the practice, Crone was not asked further questions about the issue, but did add later that he believed the paper’s defence that hacking did not go beyond “one rogue reporter” was “erroneous from the outset”. Meanwhile, in a letter to MPs released today, News Corp boss James Murdoch said he had not read a key email sent to him in June 2008 by former editor Colin Myler that indicated the practice was not limited to the “rogue reporter”. One email in the thread warned of a “further nightmare scenario” arising out of a phone hacking case brought forward by Professional Footballers’ Association CEO Gordon Taylor.

Moving on from matters of phone hacking, Crone described the News of the World’s use of private investigators. He said the only ones he knew of that were commissioned by the paper were Mulcaire and Steve Whittamore, the PI involved in personal data breaches uncovered in Operation Motorman. He added that PIs were not used at the paper after the Goodman-Mulcaire convictions in 2007, and that Myler introduced measures to “eliminate illegal or unethical practices”.

Crone’s written evidence also stated that private investigators were commissioned “on a handful of occasions” to check matters that may arise in post-publication litigation.

Crone told the Inquiry he was “not a guardian of ethics” and that his job was merely to “advise on legal risk”.

He denied being consulted about plans for a follow-up story to the paper’s notorious 2008 splash on Max Mosley that accused the ex-Formula 1 boss of taking part in a Nazi-themed orgy. Crone also claimed he was not asked to advise on the posting of a video of Mosley apparently engaging in the orgy to the paper’s website. He said he felt the footage was “pushing it”, but did not advise for it to be removed.

Mosley sued the paper for breach of privacy in 2008 and was paid £60,000 in damages. Crone claimed he was not asked to advise the paper in relation to any appeal, and said he was unaware if chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck had been disciplined after Mr Justice Eady’s ruling on the case.

Crone received a thorough grilling on his involvement from a stunned Lord Justice Leveson and Robert Jay QC. “Here was a high court judge,” Jay said, “was it not of interest to you…didn’t you feel that it fell within your jurisdiction?” Crone responded it did not.

In his testimony he also defended the publication of the Mosley article, arguing it was a “justifiable story without the Nazi element”, but conceded that Thurlbeck’s emails to two women involved in the orgy about a follow-up story were “close to” blackmail.

Also speaking today was Julian Pike, a partner at Farrer & Co, which has advised News International for around 25 years. He revealed that he knew in April 2010 that surveillance ordered by the News of the World was being carried out on phone hacking victims’ solicitors Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris, but did not know of its nature or who was conducting it.

One hoped, Pike said, that the paper “would be able to carry out a very straightforward job of surveillance”. He denied knowledge of Derek Webb, the PI hired to survey Lewis and Harris, in 2010, and insisted that a surveillance operation would not always involve a private investigator, noting that a freelance journalist may also be commissioned to do the work.

Farrers was commissioned in May 2010 to look into the pair, over what Pike said was “perceived to be some very serious breaches of confidentiality over a significant period of time.” He added that it was a “perfectly legitimate exercise” but did not condone the subsequent surveillance of Lewis and Harris’s families.

Earlier in the day the Inquiry heard from Lawrence Abramson, formerly of solicitors Harbottle & Lewis, who were hired by NI to review around 2,500 internal emails following claims by Goodman that the then editor, Andy Coulson, knew about phone hacking at the paper and that others were involved.

Abramson revealed that around a dozen emails reviewed by the firm could have been “potentially embarrassing”, leading to “adverse publicity” and showing NI in “an unfavourable light”. He said the emails showed confidential sources, cash payments and an “active involvement” in Goodman’s prosecution, namely that NI “tried to influence how the defence was conducted”.

He added that he felt the emails “fell outside what I had been asked to consider because they did not suport Mr Goodman’s allegations.”

He also noted that, while working for NI, he had not seen emails from 2003 that may also have been significant. Abramson was asked if he has since seen them, and said his advice to the company would have been different had he known about the emails in 2007.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with further evidence from Tom Crone, as well as the News of the World’s former editor, Colin Myler, and Jon Chapman, News International’s former legal affairs chief.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.

Hacking: Myler and Crone point to Murdoch

What very different figures Tom Crone and Colin Myler present in September 2011, compared with the chippy, brisk, pushy individuals who confronted the Commons media select committee in July 2009. And what a different picture they paint.

By way of a reminder, back then they began by attempting to have Tom Watson MP removed from the questioning panel on human rights grounds. Then Crone, formerly the legal affairs chief for the Sun and the News of the World, firmly told MPs: “In the aftermath of Clive Goodman and Mulcaire’s arrest and subsequent conviction various internal investigations were conducted by us.”

He asserted that the lawyers Burton Copeland, whom he described as “probably the leading firm in this country for white-collar fraud” had carried out an investigation inside News International in 2006-7.

Myler, the last editor of the News of the World, also spoke boldly in 2009 of Burton Copeland. They were all over the company at one time, he said: “My understanding of their remit was that they were brought in to go over everything and find out what had gone on, to liaise with the police…” He also pointed to News International’s own search of 2,500 emails in which “no evidence was found”. And he emphasised: “I have never worked or been associated with a newspaper that has been so forensically examined…”

Myler was “certainly not aware” in 2009 of any payment to Clive Goodman after his release from jail, and was apparently surprised when Crone admitted he had “a feeling there may have been a payment of some sort”.

It was a brazen-it-out, you’ve-got-no-proof performance. They were forgetful in some places and defiant in others, and generally gave the impression that they had done everything humanly possible to find out whether more than one rogue reporter had been involved in hacking, and come up with nothing.

Crone, moreover, gave the impression a lot of fuss was being made about nothing, dwelling on a remark by the police that there were only a “handful”of victims, and on a claim by Clive Goodman’s lawyer that only one story had ever been published that was based on hacking.

All that was in 2009. Both men — who as we know parted company with their employer over the summer — turned up this time in different mood. Indeed Myler, hunched over the table, appeared to be a different shape. They were some way short of contrite but they could not conceal that they were now playing on the losing side.

Little by little they conceded that, in truth, there were no internal investigations into hacking at News International in 2006-7. Burton Copeland’s letter on the subject could not have been clearer, declaring that the firm “was not instructed” to carry out any such investigation. As for the email search, another legal firm, Harbottle and Lewis, stated that that, too, could not be qualified as an investigation, while a former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald [an Index on Censorship trustee], has said that evidence of criminality in the emails was “blindingly obvious”.

And as we all know, too, there was more than one hacker. There wasn’t a handful of victims but almost certainly thousands. Lots of hacking stories were published. And Clive Goodman received a pay-off of £243,000.

The two men had little to offer in their defence. Myler said he had believed, wrongly, that there had been an investigation before he took over as editor, and then took refuge in blaming the police (not without some cause). And all along — this probably has the greatest long-term significance — he and Crone also firmly pushed the spotlight upwards, to James Murdoch.

If anybody thought they might meekly let James off the hook they were mistaken. The incriminating “for Neville” email was fully explained to the young News International chairman in a meeting in 2008, they said. According to Crone, now much more frank on the subject than he was in 2009: “I explained that this document meant there was wider News of the World involvement.” And “the effect of this document is that it goes beyond Clive Goodman”.

(This was the very interpretation that the Guardian put upon that document in 2009, and that the committee put upon it in 2010, a period when the likes of Crone and Myler were denouncing both as irresponsible and dishonest.)

The new Myler agreed with the new Crone about the meeting with James: “I think everybody perfectly understood the seriousness and significance of what we were discussing.” James’s insistence that he was given an “incomplete picture”, therefore, is directly challenged by the other two people who were there.

It is easy to forget that the formal purpose of these hearings is to establish whether the select committee has been misled in the course of its investigations into these matters since 2007. They will soon have to produce a report on that point — though probably not before hearing from James Murdoch again. As Crone and Myler must know, whatever else it may say, that report is certain to make very unpleasant reading for them.

Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University London and a founder of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart 

This article can also be read at the Hacked Off website