Murdoch still in MPs’ sights

By DAVID WOODING

BRITAIN’S top-selling newspaper was sacrificed to stop the toxicity from the phone hacking scandal infecting the rest of the Murdoch empire. But it is looking more likely by the day that the News of the World closure will have been in vain.

MPs now have James Murdoch clearly in their sights as they continue to dig down into details of decision-making at News International. He is almost certain to be recalled for a grilling after two senior executives openly contradicted evidence the company chairman gave to the Commons two months ago.

Former legal manager Tom Crone today told the Commons culture committee he was “certain” he told Murdoch about an email which suggested illegal interception of voicemail messages was more widespread than first thought. He was backed by ex-NotW Editor Colin Myler when he insisted he spent about 15 minutes discussing it with Murdoch. It’s now a clear case of their word against his – and the media boss is certain to be recalled to explain the conflict to MPs.

The whole focus of the scandal has now switched from the allegedly routine eaves-dropping on private phone messages (yes, we’re all pretty clear that it happened now) to whether bosses mounted a cover up. Some MPs clearly think they did after listening to evidence at today’s hearing.

It emerged that jailed Royal Editor Clive Goodman was given a pay off worth nearly £250,000 when he was sacked for his criminal activity. Former head of legal affairs Jon Chapman told MPs this was to avoid fighting an industrial tribunal at which he could make a whole range of damaging allegations about company practices.

Tory MP Philip Davies said he found it all very strange when the maximum compensation for winning a tribunal in such a case would be £60,000. “He must be the luckiest man on Earth,” he declared. Labour’s Jim Sheridan said he’d been involved in many tribunal cases and never seen anything like it.

No doubt, the 280 innocent News of the World employees who paid a heavy price for his actions will be questioning the size of their own severance terms.

Mr Chapman also admitted that the investigation into phone hacking after Mr Goodman was caught was “very narrow”. He said that 2,500 emails between Goodman and five other people whom he had implicated in the scandal were checked – but no others. Those named were spoken to but all denied being involved in any phone hacking. Mr Chapman defended the email review as a “thorough” and a “careful and diligent exercise” but admitted it was limited in its scope to Goodman’s sacking.

Labour MP Chris Bryant later told me he had detected 53 lies told by News International executives since the controversy began.

MPs still have lots more questions to ask – and then there’s a judicial inquiry and the possibility of more criminal and civil proceedings. They may have scorched the earth by razing the NotW to the ground but the fire is still burning strong.

This will run and run.

(First published on The Spectator’s Coffee House blog, September 6, 2011)

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

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