Did James Murdoch Lie? These 5 Execs Know the Truth

Last Updated Jul 25, 2011 5:27 PM EDT

There are now as many as five people who could contradict James Murdoch's testimony that in 2008 he had no clue that the phone hacking of celebrities was more widespread within the News of the World and other parts of the News Corp. (NWS) tabloid empire.

What James knew and when he knew it is now the crucial issue in the scandal. If it emerges that James or his father Rupert misled Parliament then it is difficult to imagine either man could could continue in a management role at the company, even though they control its stock. The five executives are:

  • Tom Crone; the Murdochs' former top U.K. lawyer;
  • Colin Myler, former News of the World editor;
  • Jon Chapman, former director of legal affairs at the company's News International tabloid unit;
  • Julian Pike, an outside lawyer who advised News Corp.;
  • Neville Thurlbeck, a reporter for the NOTW who was arrested for his alleged role in phone hacking in April.
They could all have useful testimony to give on how widespread knowledge was with the company. Here's a look at who said what and when, and how restricted the timeline has become around the emergence of evidence that hacking was "endemic" inside the Murdochs' media empire:

James Murdoch
In testimony to the House of Commons select committee on media, Murdoch said he first realized that hacking was widespread "at the end of 2010," when the company was sued by actress Sienna Miller.

James Murdoch: ... largely that came about at the end of 2010, as the due process of a number of civil trials reached the point where document disclosure and evidence disclosure made it apparent to the company and to myself at that time that indeed there was reason to believe that potentially more people had been involved in News of the World illegal voicemail interceptions from before.
Prior to that, Murdoch said he believed that the hacking was restricted to a single case which News Corp. settled with England football players' union manager Gordon Taylor. That settlement occurred in 2008:
James Murdoch: Lastly, this was in a context in the first half of 2008 and it was my first real involvement with any of the issues where there was no reason at the time to believe that the issue of the voice mail interceptions was anything but a settled matter, and that it was in the past after the successful prosecution of the two individuals we discussed as well as the resignation of the editor.
Prior to testifying earlier this month, Murdoch claimed that when he signed off on the Taylor settlement, "I did not have a complete picture when I did so."

Tom Crone and Colin Myler
At News Corp., Crone led an internal investigation into phone hacking in 2007. In 2009, he testified to parliament that the result of his probe was that he did not find evidence that hacking went beyond a single reporter, Clive Goodman:

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."
But by 2008, more evidence had emerged, Crone went on to say:
The first piece of evidence we saw of that, in terms of the management investigating, was in April 2008," he said.
In his telephone interview with Reuters this week he added: "I accepted that inside the News of the World it went beyond Goodman."
When asked by a member of parliament whether he could "categorically tell us that you have never listened to any conversations which you think were obtained as a result of phone hacking," Crone replied: "Yes, I can definitely say that."
The "April 2008" evidence is probably the Taylor settlement.

After James Murdoch's testimony, Crone and Myler gave a joint statement to the Guardian saying that in fact they had alerted Murdoch to wider use of hacking at the time of the settlement, pointing to an email titled "for Neville," which referred to numerous transcripts of hacked voicemail messages:

Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday's Culture, Media Select Committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.
In fact, we did inform him of the "for Neville" email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor's lawyers.
The "Neville" referred to is Neville Thurlbeck.

Neville Thurlbeck
When Taylor sued the NOTW, his legal pleadings referenced a series of transcripts of hacked voicemails obtained by court order from the police. They referenced two journalists at the NOTW, Ross Hindley and Thurlbeck:

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 [a business 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."
Crone insists he informed Murdoch of the "for Neville" transcripts at the time of the Taylor settlement. But when Murdoch testified to parliament earlier this month he said had not been made aware of them at the time:
Q: James--sorry, if I may call you James, to differentiate--when you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville e-mail, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?
James Murdoch: No, I was not aware of that at the time.
Murdoch later repeated that denial to the The Guardian:
In June 2008 James Murdoch had given verbal approval to settle the case, following legal advice. He did this without knowledge of the 'for Neville' email.
Jon Chapman
A new figure in the scandal, Chapman was News International's director of legal affairs. He was involved in settling Goodman's unfair dismissal claim, and in so doing had seen a "trove of internal e-mails between Mr. Goodman and some senior staff members" about hacking at the NOTW, according to the New York Times. Now, Chapman is preparing to testify to parliament in order to correct "serious inaccuracies" in Murdoch's statements.

Julian Pike
Pike, another lawyer, provided outside counsel to News on the Taylor settlement. The Times reported police may ask to see his notes on the case.

Conspicuously absent in all this is any allegation that Rupert Murdoch had been informed in 2008 that hacking was widespread. He was asked about this in Parliament earlier this month. His answer was vague, but it is worth noting that unlike his son he did not pin himself to any specific timeframe:

Q: Mr Murdoch, at what point did you find out that criminality was endemic at News of the World?
Rupert Murdoch: Endemic is a very hard, wide-ranging word. I also have to be extremely careful not to prejudice the course of justice, which is taking place now. It has been disclosed. I became aware as it became apparent.
If it were to emerge that James Murdoch did not tell the truth, it could end his chances of succeeding his father as CEO of News Corp. And as Rupert, who is 80, will leave the company sooner rather than later, that could leave News without a Murdoch at its helm -- an almost unthinkable prospect just a few weeks ago.


Image by Flickr user nrkbeta, CC.