A committee investigating allegations that hacking occurred on an industrial scale and was covered up by senior executives was told that Rupert Murdoch’s son had been made aware the practice was more widespread than thought but had failed to take any action.
Lawyer Tom Crone also claimed that News International had hired freelance journalists to snoop on the private lives of lawyers representing hacking victims.
“I saw one thing in relation to two of the lawyers,” he told a parliamentary committee. Asked whether he knew the source of the information, he said: “Freelance journalists employed by News International.”
News Corp has been engulfed by the hacking scandal since it was revealed in July that the illegal practice extended beyond celebrities and politicians to murder victims including schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and British war dead.
Crone repeated that he had explained to James Murdoch in 2008 the significance of a key email obtained by a hacking victim, which contained transcripts of intercepted voicemails unrelated to the scapegoated reporter who had already gone to jail.
“This document meant there was a wider News International involvement,” Crone told the committee, after being asked to explain what he had told Murdoch in a meeting in which Colin Myler, the tabloid’s last editor, was also present.
Myler and Crone said the “for Neville” email was the only reason Murdoch had approved a £700,000 (€800,000) payout to the victim, football executive Gordon Taylor.
“Since he gave us the authority we were asking for in the context of what we’d said to him, I would take it that he understood that for the first time he realised the News of The World was involved, and that involvement involved people beyond Clive Goodman and on that basis he authorised the settlement,” Crone said.
Murdoch has repeatedly said he was not aware at the time of a “for Neville” email or that hacking was widespread. He has given evidence to the committee and may be recalled.
James Murdoch was not in charge of News International at the time the hacking is known to have occurred.
Yesterday, members of the committee frequently appeared exasperated by the witnesses’ repeated claims to have no recollection of key events and documents.
Crone said he had not read the Gordon Taylor file since he last gave evidence to parliament on the matter in 2009, eliciting an incredulous response from legislator Tom Watson, the committee’s most dogged questioner.
“What on Earth were you doing for two years Mr Crone? The entire focus of public enquiry has been on the Taylor payment, you were the legal director of News Group Newspapers and you are seriously telling me you have not reviewed that file in over two years?” Watson asked.
“Not in any detail, no,” Crone replied.
Earlier yesterday, Daniel Cloke, who ran News International’s human resources at the time, and ex-commercial lawyer Jon Chapman said the company had done all it could to investigate a 2007 claim by Clive Goodman, long scapegoated as the “rogue” reporter, that hacking was commonplace.