UK Politics

'Rogue reporter' claim destroyed by MPs' findings

Copy of Culture committee report into phone hacking
Image caption The Culture committee has set out how it believes it was misled

To those of us who have been covering the phone-hacking story since January 2007 - when the News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed and its editor Andy Coulson resigned - the claim that this was the work of "one rogue reporter" always seemed far-fetched.

Now the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has demolished it.

What was even more remarkable was how long the story withstood all attempts to knock it down - particularly in the light of evidence that has since emerged at the committee and the Leveson Inquiry that so many people knew for so long that it was untrue.

The "rogue reporter" claim was repeated year after year by News International executives in the teeth of investigations by the Guardian, by lawyers for the victims of phone hacking and by MPs on the committee - not to mention less diligent inquiries by the police and the Press Complaints Commission.

In an earlier report on phone hacking in 2010, the committee accused News International of "collective amnesia" and "deliberate obfuscation" and said it was "inconceivable" that no one else at the newspaper knew what was going on.

But the MPs said they had no firm evidence and News International accused them of innuendo and exaggeration.

'Journalistic interest'

Now the committee's follow-up report sets out how it believes it was misled, and how often - and why the "one rogue reporter" story was far-fetched in the first place.

In paragraph 38 it explains that, in the court case that led to their jailing, Clive Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jointly charged with accessing the voicemails of three employees of the royal household.

But significantly, it says: "Glenn Mulcaire alone faced charges of accessing the voicemails of five further people: the publicist Max Clifford, sports agent Skylet Andrew, Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, politician Simon Hughes and model Elle MacPherson.

"As none of these five individuals was connected to the royal family, none would have been of journalistic interest to Clive Goodman, the newspaper's Royal Editor.

"As he and Glenn Mulcaire had pleaded guilty, however, neither gave evidence in court so there was no opportunity to test the newspaper and News International's 'one rogue reporter' stance at the time."

Timeline of events

Following his jailing, Mr Goodman was dismissed and the report says he "responded by initiating an appeal against his dismissal on the grounds that his activities had been known about, and supported, by various senior members of staff at the News of the World".

"Specifically, he stated that: 'This practice [phonehacking] was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor'."

The famous "For Neville" email also suggested that phone hacking was more widespread than had been claimed, says the committee.

It concludes that it was misled by News International's then chief executive Les Hinton, the company's legal manager Tom Crone and by Colin Myler, who succeeded Andy Coulson as editor of the News of the World, with a brief to improve standards.

Paragraph 275 of the report states:

  • "Les Hinton misled the Committee in 2009 in not telling the truth about payments to Clive Goodman and his role in authorising them, including the payment of his legal fee. He also misled the Committee about the extent of his knowledge of allegations that phone hacking extended beyond Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire to others at the News of the World.
  • Tom Crone misled the Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement and sought to mislead the Committee about the commissioning of surveillance.
  • Tom Crone and Colin Myler misled the Committee by answering questions falsely about their knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone hacking and other wrongdoing.
  • Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the Committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth."

The report also includes a timeline of events stating who knew what about the extent of phone hacking at the time they gave evidence.

The three executives have issued statements denying the report's allegations.

Mr Hinton said he was "shocked and disappointed" by the claims he had misled Parliament and said the report's conclusions about him were "unfounded, unfair and erroneous".

Mr Crone said they "lacked foundation".

Mr Myler said he stood by his evidence to the committee and had "always sought to be accurate and consistent".

But a News Corporation statement said "hard truths had emerged from the select committee report" and "some of our employees misled the select committee in 2009".

Vote of censure

Right back in 2007, watching the first evidence being given to the committee on phone hacking, I recalled the lesson of President Nixon and the Watergate break-in - that the cover-up can have worse consequences than the original offence.

Over the years the thought persisted as the "one rogue reporter" defence was trotted out again and again in evidence to Parliament.

Last week, Rupert Murdoch finally admitted at the Leveson Inquiry that there had been a cover-up.

Now his executives are facing a possible vote of censure in the House of Commons.

And News Corp is facing serious questions from Ofcom as to whether it is a "fit and proper" company to hold a controlling stake in the broadcaster BSkyB.

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