The ‘For Neville’ email: two words that could bring down an empire

The Guardian reports:

Many angry victims of the News of the World’s journalism used to try their hand at suing, and the paper’s battle-hardened lawyers were good at seeing them off. Still they regularly paid out £1.2m a year on a variety of libel claims.

But in May 2008, Tom Crone, the paper’s veteran head of legal, got a nasty shock. His opponents in one lawsuit against the paper suddenly appeared to have got hold of a smoking gun.

It was a piece of evidence that seemed to guarantee that the complainant in question, Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association, could virtually write his own cheque in privacy damages and blow a major hole in the tabloid’s budget.

Worse, much worse, was the fact that this single document, later christened the “For Neville” email, was capable of wrecking all the previous NoW efforts to cover up its hacking scandal. In the end, this piece of evidence would not only cost Crone his own job, but also help destroy the entire newspaper for which he worked, the flagship of Rupert Murdoch’s British fleet.

News of the “For Neville” email originally arrived on Crone’s desk at Wapping, in the form of an “amended particulars of claim” from Taylor’s lawyers, dated 12 May 2008. It used dry legal language, but Crone immediately saw its force.

It detailed the contents of one of the documents seized in the raid on Glenn Mulcaire, the News of the World’s private detective who had recently been jailed for phone hacking along with “rogue reporter” Clive Goodman. What it revealed was the way senior staff at the NoW had been involved in systematic hacking – the very thing the paper had been strenuously denying all along, not only to Taylor’s lawyers, but to its readers, parliament and public. The legal pleadings said: “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.”

Taylor’s lawyers had obtained a copy of the “For Neville” email, with its lists of carefully transcribed hacked private messages, from the police under a court order. It was one of the 11,000 files seized from Mulcaire that were mouldering in bin bags since Scotland Yard had been persuaded to drop their pursuit of a case so potentially embarrassing to their tabloid journalist friends. Crone must have been shocked to realise the incriminating nature of the information the Metropolitan police possessed which could be used in future against his own employers.

Faced with such a crisis, Crone decided he had to consult his new boss, who was to authorise a huge, secret payout which buried the “Neville” dossier. He went to see the abrasive and self-confident younger son of the proprietor, 36-year-old James Murdoch.

Meanwhile, another report says:

Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s former director of communications, is being investigated by police for allegedly committing perjury while working for David Cameron in Downing Street.

The development renews pressure on the prime minister over his judgment in hiring the former News of the World editor and represents the third criminal investigation Coulson faces, adding to allegations that he knew of phone hacking while in charge of the tabloid and authorised bribes to police officers.

Strathclyde detectives confirmed that they had opened a perjury inquiry centred on evidence Coulson gave in court last year that led to a man being jailed.

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