UK

Leveson Inquiry: Lawyer had 'suspicions' over hacking

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Media captionTom Crone said he suspected phone hacking was more widespread than one "rogue reporter"

A former News of the World lawyer says he thought the tabloid's assertion that phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter was wrong from the outset.

Tom Crone told Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media ethics when the line was first used he felt it would "come back to bite the people concerned".

But he said there was no admissible evidence the practice was widespread and no further action by police then.

Media lawyer Lawrence Abramson said the NoW had wanted to contain publicity.

Mr Crone, the paper's former legal manager, told the inquiry he "expressed the view that others were probably involved" in phone hacking after former News of the World (NoW) royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of illegally accessing the voicemail of royal aides in 2007.

He said he "reported upwards the legal ramifications."

He said he thought the newspaper decided not to look further into phone-hacking claims after the jailing of Goodman and Mulcaire, in the absence of any clear admissible evidence or action by the police.

"This was the worst thing that had happened in the newspaper's history and the company's primary thought was to draw a line under it," he said. "The fact that the company hadn't heard further from the police reassured people that this was a line they could take."

Lord Justice Leveson put it to Mr Crone that employers could have taken one of two reactions to revelations of illegal activity at their organisations; investigating it further and clearing out those involved; or wanting to help the person convicted and deciding there was no purpose investigating further.

He asked the lawyer to comment "on the perception that within the newsroom here the latter view prevailed and absolutely not the former".

"I can't speak for what was going through other people's minds," Mr Crone replied.

He said he thought there was a feeling that "bad things had happened, possibly more than had come out, there was also a feeling that they weren't going to happen anymore and they weren't happening now... and the company hoped to move forward on that basis".

Counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC asked Mr Crone whether it was NoW publisher News International's hope to protect the company from reputational damage.

"Yes. I cannot deny that," replies Crone. "I think that was everyone's hope to be perfectly honest."

Mr Crone told the inquiry he had a discussion on phone hacking "on one occasion" before the arrest of Goodman in 2006 and "several" after that time.

He had also encountered situations when journalists asked him for advice after being offered information by people in public office looking for payment and had always told them "that it would be a criminal offence to pay someone".

Hacking email chain

Mr Crone had previously told MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee that he had told News International chairman James Murdoch in 2008 of the significance of an email suggesting phone hacking was widespread at NoW.

Mr Murdoch denied this, saying he was not aware of the allegations until recently. He told the committee in July that it had only been made apparent to him near the end of 2010 that more people had potentially been involved in phone hacking.

However, an email chain has now been released showing Mr Murdoch was copied into messages where the potential scope of phone hacking at the tabloid was discussed in June 2008.

Mr Murdoch has said he only read the most recent email in the chain, requesting a meeting - and says he knew nothing about widespread wrongdoing at News International papers.

The emails, copies of which have now been given to the Commons culture committee, discuss the case being taken by phone hacking victim Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA footballers' union.

BBC business editor Robert Peston says Mr Murdoch's reputation and (probably) his ability to remain as chair of British Sky Broadcasting hinge to a great extent on whether MPs choose to believe his account of events.

At the Leveson Inquiry, media lawyer Mr Abramson said the NoW's fear over phone-hacking was expressed when News International asked him to review its extent in 2007, while he was working for the firm Harbottle & Lewis.

He said the company also wanted "not to provoke" Mulcaire.

Mr Abramson's review four years ago examined about 2,500 News International internal emails after Goodman claimed phone hacking at the paper had been widespread.

The subsequent Harbottle & Lewis review "did not find anything" that proved "that Clive Goodman's illegal actions were known about", the inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in London heard.

But Mr Abramson said that, since that finding, he had seen a batch of 2003 NoW emails which would have changed those conclusions.

In his evidence to the hearing, lawyer Julian Pike, a partner at Farrer and Co which has advised News International for many years, said he was unaware that a private investigator had been hired to follow victims' lawyers Charlotte Harris and Mark Lewis in April 2010.

Mr Lewis has previously described to the inquiry seeing a "truly horrific" surveillance video of his ex-wife and 14-year-old daughter. News International has apologised for the surveillance. It was part of an attempt by the NoW to demonstrate that Mr Lewis was sharing confidential information with Ms Harris.

Mr Pike said he had suggested in March 2010 that the pair be put under surveillance as part of a "a perfectly legitimate exercise" into alleged "very serious breaches of confidentiality" but believed freelance journalists would have been able to do the task.

"If it was being done properly it wouldn't be a hugely intrusive exercise at all," he added.

'Questions persist'

Meanwhile, the Guardian newspaper has issued a statement saying "a number of questions persist" about the deletion of voicemail messages on the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002.

This comes after the Metropolitan Police told the inquiry on Monday that the messages were "most likely" deleted automatically.

The Guardian's allegation that News of the World journalists deleted messages, giving false hope to Milly's family that she was still alive, reignited the phone-hacking scandal earlier this year.

The Guardian said: "It remains uncontested that the News of the World hacked the telephone of a murdered teenager, obstructing the police inquiry into her disappearance.

"It would be surprising if anyone suggested the latest information rendered this behaviour any less reprehensible."

A statement issued on behalf of the Dowler family said they stood by a statement issued on their behalf last week.

"They have a clear recollection that the police told them that the News of the World had listened to their missing daughter's voicemail and deleted some of the messages," the most recent statement said.

"They have asked all of the press to leave them alone and, while they remain willing to help Lord Leveson, they do not propose to make any further statement."

Mulcaire court case

As the Leveson Inquiry continued, Mulcaire began suing NoW publishers News Group Newspapers (NGN) at the High Court for a breach of contract. Mulcaire argues NGN had no right to terminate an alleged indemnity in respect of his costs or damages incurred or ordered to be paid by him in connection with the hacking scandal.

His counsel Ben Williams said Mulcaire could not fund his legal defence or pay successful claimants in the civil litigation, due to start in January.

Mr Williams said NGN had paid Mulcaire's legal costs until Rupert and James Murdoch were questioned about the payment by a Commons select committee on 19 July.

"Glenn Mulcaire's case is that the defendant did agree to pay his costs, the agreement is enforceable and the defendant did not have the right to terminate it," he said.