The chairman of the British parliamentary panel that questioned Rupert and James Murdoch last week about phone hacking wants to hear from three men who claim that the Murdochs gave inaccurate testimony.
John Whittingdale, a Conservative member of Parliament who chairs the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told The Evening Standard of London on Tuesday: “It is somewhat frustrating to keep hearing media reports about people wishing to correct evidence. If they have doubts about any testimony they should get in touch with us immediately.”
Mr. Whittingdale was referring to statements released in recent days by three men who all held senior positions at News International, the Murdochs' British newspaper division, until earlier this month.
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Video of James Murdoch being questioned last week by Tom Watson, a Labour member of Parliament.
Colin Myler, who was the editor of The News of the World, the British tabloid at the center of the hacking scandal, and Tom Crone, who was the chief legal adviser to News International, said in a joint statement on Thursday that James Murdoch “was mistaken” when he told the committee that he had not been made aware of an incriminating e-mail in 2008, when he agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a phone hacking victim. The e-mail, from a News of the World journalist, strongly suggested that phone hacking was more widespread at the paper in 2005 than the company had previously acknowledged.
Then on Friday, Jon Chapman, News International's director of legal affairs until this month, said in a statement that he wanted to cooperate with the committee to correct “serious inaccuracies in statements made” at last week's hearing.
Mr. Whittingdale told The Standard, “If Mr. Chapman has information which he believes calls into question the evidence provided by James Murdoch, then we would be very keen to speak to him.”
The Standard notes that Mr. Chapman was a senior executive at Enron before he started working for News International in 2003. During last week's hearing, James Murdoch was asked if he was familiar with the term “willful blindness,” which was used to describe the behavior of senior executives at Enron who averted their eyes from wrongdoing.
As The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by the Murdochs' News Corporation, explained on Friday:
Mr. Chapman had served on the front lines since News International started having to deal with the allegations back in 2006, when News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were arrested. Mr. Chapman ultimately reported to Les Hinton, a top aide to Rupert Murdoch and executive chairman of News International until December 2007. Mr. Hinton then became head of News Corp.'s Dow Jones & Co, which publishes The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Hinton recently resigned from that role, saying he was “ignorant of what apparently happened” at The News of the World.
Mr. Chapman played a key role in settling an unfair-dismissal dispute brought by Mr. Goodman after his conviction — a settlement that was approved by Mr. Hinton and the unit's head of human resources, according to testimony by Mr. Chapman before the parliamentary committee. He also played a role in an internal inquiry that resulted from that dispute, in which Mr. Chapman and a colleague reviewed a batch of e-mails between Mr. Goodman and five others, and then forwarded some or all of them to an outside law firm for review.
That law firm, Harbottle & Lewis LLP, at the time found no “reasonable evidence” that others knew about or were carrying out similar illegal procedures. Another lawyer recently hired by News International, Ken MacDonald, said following a review of nine or 10 of those emails that there was “blindingly obvious” evidence of corrupt payments.
During testimony on Tuesday to the parliamentary committee, Rupert Murdoch appeared to lay responsibility with Mr. Chapman, who helped oversee the Harbottle review, saying the former legal counsel would have been familiar with the file's contents “for a number of years.”
Mr. Chapman was a central figure in an internal inquiry conducted by News International into phone hacking in 2007. He has also previously provided evidence on the matter to the parliamentary committee.
In response to a request from the committee in October 2009, News International provided a copy of the letter sent to Mr. Chapman on May 29, 2007, from Lawrence Abramson of Harbottle & Lewis.
Here, from the House of Commons Web site, is the full text of that letter:
Re Clive Goodman
We have on your instructions reviewed the emails to which you have provided access from the accounts of:
I can confirm that we did not find anything in those emails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman's illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the Editor, and Neil Wallis, the Deputy Editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the News Editor, and others were carrying out similar illegal procedures.
Please let me know if we can be of any further assistance.
In hindsight, what is striking about the letter is that it suggests that Harbottle & Lewis was instructed by News International to conduct a very narrow review of the e-mails; the lawyers looked only for evidence that Mr. Goodman's superiors knew about his use of the illegal technique or that others at the paper were using it. They were not asked to look for evidence of other kinds of illegal activity, like payments to the police, or to review e-mails sent by other reporters at the paper, like the one that contained a transcript of 35 hacked voice mail messages that Mr. Myler and Mr. Crone said they told James Murdoch about in 2008.
As my colleagues Jo Becker and Ravi Somaiya reported last weekend, while some of the e-mails reviewed for News International’s internal inquiry in 2007 “showed no direct evidence of hacking, according to three company officials they did contain suggestions that Mr. Coulson may have authorized payments to the police for information.”
They also reported that, according to News International officials, the 2007 review of e-mails was not undertaken to find out if hacking had been widely practiced by News of the World journalists. Rather, the review “was aimed at defending the company from a lawsuit filed by Clive Goodman,” who had been fired for hacking. Mr. Goodman claimed that his dismissal was unfair because his colleagues had also used the technique. This might explain why Harbottle & Lewis was asked to review e-mail traffic only between Mr. Goodman and his editors.
Three of the five editors named in the Harbottle & Lewis letter — Andy Coulson, Neil Wallis and Ian Edmondson — have been arrested in recent months in connection with new police investigations into phone hacking and illegal payments to police officers.