The Guardian reports:
Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.
In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named.
The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”.
Nicholas Wapshott writes:
The first letter, from News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman, who became the patsy for the affair, gives the lie to the suggestion to Parliament by Murdoch’s most trusted retainer Les Hinton that phone hacking was the work of a single rogue reporter. In the letter, Goodman lets slip that “the actions … were carried out with the full knowledge and support” of some of the paper’s other journalists and that “other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.” The names of those others have been redacted for now, at the request of Scotland Yard, for fear of jeopardizing a prosecution.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s judgment is also called into question by the letter. The socially remote Cameron felt he could not connect with humdrum voters and hired Andy Coulson, top editor at the News of the World when the hacking took place, to explain his government’s policies in language the ordinary person could understand. Cameron says he hired the tainted Coulson because Coulson denied knowing of the illegality going on under his nose. But Goodman reports that hacking “was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor [Coulson].” The “smoking gun” letter makes Cameron look naïve and gullible for being taken in so easily.
As in the Watergate affair, the coverup is becoming as important to understanding the culture within Murdoch’s business, and the failure of corporate governance by the board, as the crimes themselves. The Commons media committee received two copies of the Goodman letter, one from News International lawyers Harbottle & Lewis, who were released from their confidentiality after sharp questioning of James Murdoch by committee members Paul Farrelly and Tom Watson. News International executives repeatedly tried to have Watson removed from the committee, and when they failed ran vicious stories about him.
While Harbottle & Lewis redacted a single line from the Goodman letter, at the request of the police, a second copy was issued by News International, on the instructions of James Murdoch. This version not only redacts the names of other employees implicated in the crime but also blots out the sentence saying Coulson openly spoke about the hacking in editorial meetings. Further, it blanks the section that shows that Murdoch’s company wanted to buy Goodman’s silence: “[H.R. director] Tom Crone and the Editor [Coulson] promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me.”
A second letter also provides evidence of a coverup of the original crime. At the Commons hearing in July, questioning centred on what Rupert and James Murdoch knew about a Harbottle & Lewis investigation into thousands of e-mails that showed extensive use of hacking by Murdoch journalists in which the legal firm appeared to clear the company of permitting wrongdoing. James Murdoch used the letter to suggest that he had no reason to believe criminality was widespread. Released from its confidentiality, however, Harbottle & Lewis has now revealed that it was never asked to comment on whether they found that the hacking was prevalent, only whether Goodman had been ordered to hack by others. “There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes,” it writes. “Nor was it being given a general retainer, as Mr. Rupert Murdoch asserted it was, ‘to find out what the hell was going on.’” They found James Murdoch’s attempt to hide behind their letter “hard to credit” and Rupert Murdoch’s assertion “inaccurate and misleading.”