Over the last three or so decades, many of those ensnared by the News of the World‘s journalism would attempt to sue the paper. Murdoch, ever conscious of any weakness, would use the best law firm available to ensure that compensation was kept to the minimum. It is alleged that their payments, both in court and out, amounted to around £1.5 million a year, more or less.
The status quo only began to unravel when the hacking scandal took hold, and it began with Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association. He had incontrovertible evidence that he had had his voicemail hacked and moreover, that this abuse was systemic and widespread. In 2008 the paper’s chief legal eagle got a nasty shock. Somehow Taylor had been given the one piece of evidence that would not only bring down the News of the World, but may well also decimate the global position of News International. It was the “For Neville” email, which would eventually undo all of the previous efforts to cover up the voicemail hacking scandal at Murdoch’s largest circulation UK paper.
The game, as Taylor might have put it, was up. The email arrived in a bundle of nondescript documents served on the News of the World and had been seized during the raid at the home of Glenn Mulcaire, the News of the World’s private detective. Mulcaire had recently been sentenced to prison for phone hacking along with a maverick staff reporter Clive Goodman. However, the email made it absolutely clear that the paper and its senior staff had been involved in, or known about, systematic hacking. The paper had always denied this at the outset of any legal claims and publicly too. The very integrity of the newspaper and its management was now being called into question and put at jeopardy. The evidence statement read: “Prior to 29th June 2005, Mr Ross Hindley acquired a transcript of 15 messages from the claimant’s mobile phone voicemail and a transcript of 17 messages left by the claimant on Ms Armstrong’s [an associate of Taylor] mobile phone voicemail. At all material times, Mr Hindley was a journalist employed by NGN working for the News of the World.”
“By email dated 29th June 2005, Mr Ross Hindley emailed Mr Mulcaire a transcript of the aforesaid 15 messages from the claimant’s mobile phone voicemail and 17 messages left by the claimant on Ms Armstrong’s mobile phone voicemail. The transcript is titled ‘Transcript for Neville’ and the document attached to the email was called ‘Transcript for Neville’. It is inferred from the references to Neville that the transcript was provided to, or was intended to be provided to, Neville Thurlbeck. Mr Thurlbeck was at all material times employed by NGN as the News of the World’s chief reporter.”
Taylor’s legal team had obtained details of the “For Neville” email, including its itemised lists of meticulously transcribed hacked private messages, from the police under a court order. It was part of a seizure of thousands of files at Mulcaire’s home that were then languishing in bin bags at the Metropolitan Police HQ. Senior officers at Scotland Yard had ‘somehow’ dropped the case, which would have been – and now is – devastating to the media giant. In the light of this knowledge, Tom Crone, the News of the World’s chief legal adviser, made the decision that he would have to consult his boss to sanction a huge out of court settlement to Taylor, which could have lead to this information being forever swept under the carpet. It is at this point that former executives have said that James Murdoch was made aware of the ensuing scandal. He had taken charge as Chief Executive of News International, the parent company of the Wapping newspapers some months previously and it was a very red-necked new executive therefore that dealt with the matter. It is the ‘who knew what and when’ that is the dynamite to this outrage and this matter could well blow Rupert Murdoch’s companies sky high as it spins out of his control by way of media and parliamentary debate. No more will he be able to call on ‘his friends’ to flush away the stench.
The protests from the former executives now looks likely to drag James Murdoch into the arena again and may well end up with him being seen as complicit in this debacle. If he is found legally culpable then the landscape of News International – where the Murdochs are concerned – will change forever. Make no mistake about this: If this matter ever begins to be investigated in the United States, it could well see Murdoch’s empire reduced almost to rubble.
It is now abundantly clear that the email itself is so explosive that it bears no explanation. But now James Murdoch is being asked to address the issue without compromise. It is clear that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee was never informed of the email. It is that document that the former executives allude to – and rightly so before they are dragged kicking and screaming before the Select Committee – and it may well see the Murdoch’s pushed out of News International as a result.