News International and Phone-hacking - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

2  News International: cooperation with the Committee and other investigations

18.  Following the convictions of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire in 2007, and the Guardian's revelation of the civil settlement with Gordon Taylor in 2009, the News of the World and its parent companies made several key assertions, which have proven to be untrue:

  • That phone-hacking was limited to one 'rogue reporter' working with one private detective/enquiry agent.
  • That the affair had been thoroughly investigated by the organisation, not once or twice, but on three occasions, and no further evidence of wrongdoing had been found.
  • That phone-hacking was limited in time between 2005 and 2006, the years covered by the original police investigation leading to the criminal charges against Goodman and Mulcaire.
  • That potentially illegal intrusion was limited to phone-hacking, and confined also to the News of the World among News International's newspaper titles.

19.  In 2009, when the Committee re-opened its inquiry into phone-hacking following publication of the Gordon Taylor settlement, senior witnesses from the News of the World recounted their reaction in vivid terms to the original arrests in 2006.

20.  Giving evidence on 21 July 2009, for example, Stuart Kuttner, former Managing Editor of the News of the World, said he had never come across cases before where his journalists had tried to obtain information illegally, or from sources who would do so. And he added:

The events of the day that the police came and Clive Goodman was arrested are seared into my brain. It was a traumatic event and I cannot state too strongly how alarming that was, and 'surprising' is not even an adequate term.[15]

21.  In its 2010 Report, Press standards, privacy and libel, the Committee nonetheless was "struck by the collective amnesia afflicting witnesses from the News of the World".[16] During the inquiry which led to the production of that Report, the forgetfulness of News International reached new levels on 15 September 2009, when Les Hinton, formerly Chief Executive of News International, appeared before the Committee and stated that he did not know, could not recall, did not remember or was not familiar with the events under scrutiny a total of 72 times.[17]

22.  In 2009, witnesses from News International had noticeably less difficulty remembering the investigative measures to which the company claimed it had been subject following the arrest of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. On 21 July 2009, Andy Coulson, who had resigned as Editor in 2007 following the convictions, said: "Obviously we wanted to know internally very quickly what the hell had gone on. Then I brought in Burton Copeland, an independent firm of solicitors, to carry out an investigation. We opened up the files as much as we could. There was nothing that they asked for that they were not given."[18] Colin Myler, then Editor of the News of the World, told us that "I do not know of any newspaper—and this is the fourth national newspaper that I have had the privilege of editing—or broadcasting organisation that has been so forensically investigated over the past four years—none".[19] He later listed those investigations and said that "if it comes down to this Committee and others not being satisfied by those inquiries, I really do not know what more I can say".[20] At the same evidence session, Tom Crone, then Legal Manager of News Group Newspapers, told us that:

In the aftermath of Clive Goodman and Mulcaire's arrest and subsequent conviction various internal investigations were conducted by us. This was against the background of a nine month massively intense police investigation prior to arrest and then a continuing investigation in the five months up to conviction. [...] At no stage during their investigation or our investigation did any evidence arise that the problem of accessing by our reporters, or complicity of accessing by our reporters, went beyond the Goodman/Mulcaire situation.[21]

23.  In 2009, News International's lone 'rogue reporter' defence was based upon the stated thoroughness of two allegedly independent investigations by solicitors, Burton Copeland and Harbottle & Lewis, which included an extensive review of senior staff e-mails; the company's further internal investigation following the Guardian's revelations in July 2009; on the Metropolitan Police's investigation into the affair and the unwillingness of either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service to re-open the matter subsequently; and on a review by the Press Complaints Commission, which found not only that the News of the World had no further case to answer, but which castigated the Guardian in its conclusions.[22] The Committee's 2010 Report rejected News International's account, stating that "evidence we have seen makes it inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Clive Goodman, knew about the phone-hacking".[23] On 19 July 2011, Rebekah Brooks told us that "everyone at News International has a great respect for Parliament and for this Committee. Of course, to be criticised by your Report was something that we responded to".[24] The response at the time was hardly as respectful as this comment suggests. Indeed, the Committee's conclusions were forcefully rejected in a press release issued by News International on the day of publication, which started with:

The credibility of the Select Committee system relies on committee members exercising their powers with responsibility and fairness, and without bias or external influence. Against these standards, the CMS Committee has consistently failed.

The reaction of the Committee to its failure to find any new evidence has been to make claims of 'collective amnesia', deliberate obfuscation and concealment of the truth.

News International strongly rejects these claims.

News International believes that the Select Committee system has been damaged and materially diminished by this inquiry and that certain members of this CMS Committee have repeatedly violated the public trust.[25]

24.  A comment piece, published in the News of the World the following Sunday was, if anything, more vitriolic. In a full page editorial, headlined 'YOUR right to know is mired in MPs' bias. But a free press is far too precious to lose', the newspaper stated:

Sadly, the victims here are YOU, the public. If these MPs get their way, our media landscape will be changed forever.

Serious reform of the laws that stop us telling the truth—reform on which this committee should have spent the vast bulk of its time—has at the very least been delayed.

And, with no hint of parody or irony, it concluded:

So each time you read a revelation in the News of the World or any paper, bear in mind the forces that are at work trying to silence us and keep you in ignorance.

They are many and they are powerful. And right now they're doing their damndest to wreck the most precious of basic press freedoms—your right to know. As they watched the Select Committee descent into bias, spite and bile, they'd have been cheering.

We'll take no lessons in standards from MPs—nor from the self-serving pygmies who run the circulation-challenged Guardian.

But we promise this: As long as we have the power to fight, you can rely on us to keep doing what we do best—revealing the misdeeds that influential people are desperate to hide.

And we'll let YOU be our judge and jury.[26]

The Editor of the newspaper at the time was Colin Myler and the Legal Manager of News Group Newspapers was Tom Crone.

25.  The newspaper's—and News International's—denials continued subsequently throughout 2010, until disclosures secured in a civil action by the actress Sienna Miller forced a change of stance at the end of the year. Notably, in a characteristically robust response to an in-depth investigation by the New York Times in September 2010—which cited several named and un-named former staff alleging that phone-hacking was widespread—the newspaper stated:

As a general point, we reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that the activities of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, at the time of their arrest, were part of a 'culture' of wrong-doing at the News of the World and were specifically sanctioned or accepted at senior level in the newspaper.

We equally reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that there has continued to be such a culture at the newspaper.

At the time of those arrests, and subsequently, we co-operated with the authorities in their investigations (which resulted in criminal convictions which were followed by the then Editor taking responsibility and stepping down), just as we co-operated with the CMS Select Committee in its extensive inquiry last year.

No evidence came out of those investigations or that inquiry that corroborates any such suggestion or assertion. [27]

26.  As far as that statement's depiction of our inquiry was concerned, nothing could have been further from the truth. We had seen evidence that more than one reporter had been involved in phone-hacking, and had said so. Conveniently, the response to the New York Times piece omitted any reference to our Report's trenchant criticisms of the News of the World.

27.  On 10 November 2011, on his second appearance before the Committee, James Murdoch explained this reaction as "the tendency for a period of time to react to criticism or allegations as being hostile, or motivated commercially or politically".[28] During his two appearances, he apologised for what he termed the company's 'aggressive defence'.[29] This apology was certainly a long time in coming.

28.  The reality is that News International took no further investigative or disciplinary action as a result of the Select Committee's 2010 Report, nor following further civil actions following the confidential, out-of-court settlement with Gordon Taylor all the way back in 2008. In oral evidence in 2011, James Murdoch acknowledged this to have been a mistake: "a more forensic look at the specific evidence that had been given to this Committee in 2009 would have been something that we could have done [...] I look back at the reaction to the Committee's Report and think that would be one turning point, if you will, that the company could have taken".[30] He also told us that "you can imagine my own frustration in 2010, when the civil litigation came to a point where these things came out, to suddenly realise that the pushback or the denial of the veracity of allegations that had been made earlier, particularly in 2009, had been too strong".[31] Indeed, as this Report sets out, the conclusions reached by the Committee in 2010 have been vindicated by evidence that started to emerge as a result of civil cases later that year and as a result of our work in 2011. As for its own so-called thorough, independent investigations, in evidence on 10 November 2011, Mr Murdoch asked: "did the company rely on those things for too long? I think it's clear the company did."[32]

29.  We stand by the conclusions over phone-hacking in the Committee's 2010 Report on Press standards, privacy and libel. As this Report sets out, those conclusions have been vindicated—and, indeed, reinforced—by evidence which started to emerge because of civil actions later that year, from continued pursuit of the matter by the Guardian and other newspapers, and from further disclosures made as a result of our work in 2011. Unlike the results of previous police and Press Complaints Commission inquiries, our conclusions have stood the test of time. It is a matter of great regret, therefore, that so much time elapsed before further action was finally taken by News International and the Metropolitan Police, in particular, to investigate phone-hacking.

30.  Throughout the course of our current investigation, witnesses from News International have made protestations of their willingness to provide assistance to the Committee. On 10 November 2011, James Murdoch, for example, told us that "since the end of 2010, as the company has found things out and discovered the extent of what has been suspected of happening [...] we have sought to be as transparent as the company can be".[33] It is true that News International has cooperated more fully with our current investigation than it did with our inquiry in 2009, although the standard was hardly very high at that time. We note for example, the willingness of the newly-established Management and Standards Committee to provide the Committee with unsolicited copies of recently unearthed e-mail exchanges that are of relevance to the events under investigation.[34]

31.  The most significant evidence received by the Committee—we note in particular Clive Goodman's letter appealing his dismissal; Tom Crone's memorandum of May 2008; and Michael Silverleaf QC's opinion on the Gordon Taylor case—has, however, been provided by other witnesses.[35] Unlike the recently unearthed e-mails, these documents have been in the company's possession all along. At no point did the company itself provide them or refer to them, either in 2009 or in 2011. In subsequent chapters, we examine the significance of these and other documents, including the recent letter to us from Surrey Police[36] regarding the News of the World's hacking of the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, the revelation which immediately precipitated the closure of the News of the World last July.

32.  Despite the professed willingness of witnesses from News International to assist the Committee, the company has continued to downplay the involvement of its employees in phone-hacking by failing to release to the Committee documents that would have helped to expose the truth.

33.  Other inquiries also faced similar problems with News International's 'aggressive defence'. Despite the 'co-operation' it subsequently professed to have extended to the Metropolitan Police, our 2010 Report documented the reality of its approach—which was described in evidence to us by one of the chief investigating officers as 'robust'.[37] Senior Metropolitan Police officers have since then been less circumspect—to us, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Leveson inquiry as to how, far from co-operating, the News of the World deliberately tried to thwart the police investigation.

34.  The Press Complaints Commission has also been a further, major casualty of the phone-hacking affair. In November 2009, following its own review, the self-regulatory body produced a report exonerating the News of the World of materially misleading it, while criticising the Guardian's reporting. In our 2010 Report, we were critical of the PCC for so doing and its then Chairman, Baroness Buscombe, has since recognised it was not told the truth by the News of the World.

35.  Both Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire pleaded guilty to the criminal charges and did not, therefore, give evidence in court. To date, no civil claim over phone-hacking has gone to a full trial. In settling the claims, News International's subsidiary News Group Newspapers (NGN) has not only been willing to pay out huge sums of money, but it has also finally had to make some wide-ranging admissions in doing so.

36.  The willingness of News International to sanction huge settlements and damaging, wide-ranging admissions to settle civil claims over phone-hacking before they reach trial reinforces the conclusion of our 2010 Report that the organisation has, above all, wished to buy silence in this affair and to pay to make this problem go away.

15   Published in Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Q1685 Back

16   Press standards, privacy and libel, para 442 Back

17   Press standards, privacy and libel, Vol II, Qqs 2107, 2111, 2114, 2117, 2118, 2119, 2121, 2123, 2126, 2134, 2135, 2140, 2141, 2143, 2149, 2150, 2154, 2155, 2156, 2157, 2161, 2167, 2171, 2173, 2174, 2175, 2176, 2177, 2178, 2188, 2189, 2191, 2196, 2199, 2201, 2202, 2206, 2207, 2208, 2213, 2220, 2228, 2230, 2234 and 2236 Back

18   Press standards, privacy and libel, Vol II, Q 1719 Back

19   Press standards, privacy and libel, Vol II, Q 1406 Back

20   Press standards, privacy and libel, Vol II, Q 1487 Back

21   Press standards, privacy and libel, Q 1339 Back

22   PCC report on phone message tapping allegations, November 9 2009, Press Complaints Commission. This report was subsequently withdrawn by the PCC on 6 July 2011. Back

23   Press standards, privacy and libel, para 440 Back

24   Q 559 Back

25   News International statement, 23 February 2010 Back

26   News of the World, Sunday 28 February 2010 Back

27 Back

28   Q 1477 Back

29   Q 1483 Back

30   IbidBack

31   Q 373 Back

32   Q 1480 Back

33   Q 1657 Back

34   Ev 271 Back

35   Ev 216, Ev 240 and Ev 247 Back

36   Ev 274 Back

37   2 Sept 2009, Q1939 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 1 May 2012