Phone hacking: NoW executives contradict each other

Former News of the World editor Colin Myler and lawyer Tom Crone are giving evidence to MPs Image copyright PA
Image caption Former News of the World editor Colin Myler and lawyer Tom Crone are giving evidence to MPs

Expectations were high at the MPs' grilling of former News International executives over the phone-hacking scandal yesterday.

During the summer, News International's top lawyer, Tom Crone, and the former editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler, had claimed James Murdoch was "mistaken" in evidence to MPs when he said he had not been told of an "explosive" email showing that phone hacking went beyond the "one rogue reporter" the company had previously claimed.

Now, they had been summoned by the MPs to explain - and to say why they too had relied on the "rogue reporter" defence in their own earlier evidence to the committee.

Mr Crone told the MPs he was "certain" he told James Murdoch about the email which indicated phone hacking at the paper went beyond one rogue reporter. He said "it was the reason that we had to settle the case" with football executive Gordon Taylor.

But, after three and a half hours of questioning by the committee, there was no smoking gun - and a great many answers of "I don't recall". One MP, Louise Mensch, told them their evidence had been "as clear as mud". Mr Murdoch himself issued a statement, standing by his testimony. "They did not show me the email, nor did they refer to Neville Thurlbeck (the reporter said to have been referred to in the email). Neither Mr Myler nor Mr Crone told me the wrongdoing extended beyond Mr Goodman or Mr Mulcaire" he said.

Despite this, Mr Murdoch is not out of the woods. As the Guardian reports, he is likely to be recalled by the committee next month to answer fresh questions about what he was told.

What is now clear is that News International executives are openly contradicting each other in their explanations of who knew what - and authorised what - in the phone-hacking scandal. In the Independent, Cahal Milmo observes: "at times yesterday the only sound coming out of the Thatcher Room in the Palace of Westminster was the thunk of the buck being passed between senior figures who once ran Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire."

Meanwhile, in the Courts of Justice, details of the forthcoming judicial inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson also emerged. The Guardian says former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks is set to give evidence alongside several key victims of press intrusion as the first witnesses. Lawyers acting for more than 100 alleged victims of phone hacking, including the actor Sienna Miller and Steve Coogan, said they have offered to give evidence.

On top of the MPs' investigations and the judicial inquiry, the police are continuing their criminal investigations, with a further arrest this morning. On Radio 4's PM yesterday, MP Chris Bryant - one of those whose phones was allegedly hacked - said we were in the third act of a five-act drama.

This saga still has years to run. It has seen the closure of the News of the World and the abandonment of News Corporation's bid for BSkyB, but it remains to be seen how far the public - as distinct from the media - is really interested any more.