Hacking scandal: where key players stand now
The Clive Goodman letter suggesting a cover-up has put spotlight back on the News of the World gang
The cache of documents released yesterday by the Commons cross-party culture committee investigating the News of the World phone hacking scandal has put the leading players at the paper and its parent company, News International, back in the spotlight.
The documents include an explosive letter written in 2007 by the sacked royal reporter Clive Goodman in which he indicated that phone hacking was not only widespread and but was condoned by his seniors.
Where do the new revelations leave the main characters in the drama?
There are three reasons why it does not look good for the 38-year-old chairman of News International.
First, he has always insisted that he had no knowledge of hacking at the NotW. Clive Goodman's letter alleges that people very close to James, including the former NI executive chairman Les Hinton who was copied in on the letter, were well aware that phone hacking was endemic.
Second, James Murdoch has always claimed that he did not know of an email – known as the 'For Neville' email – which laid out the extent of phone hacking at the paper. But the former NI legal manager Tom Crone and former NotW editor Colin Myler have told the culture committee that James did know of the explosive email.
Third, legal firm Harbottle & Lewis have rejected James Murdoch's claim before the culture committee on July 19 that they gave NI a "clean bill of health". They called Murdoch’s evidence to that effect "inaccurate", "misleading", "hard to credit" and "self-serving".
John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the culture committee, says Murdoch is now "likely" to be recalled to explain anomalies in his evidence. If and when that happens, it will likely be a day of high drama. He is already facing renewed calls to quit as NI chairman.
His stumbling appearance at the July 19 hearing has led most people to dismiss him as a peripheral figure in the scandal. Deliberately underbriefed or not, it has probably saved him the embarrassment of a recall.
As Labour MP Tom Watson said yesterday, "The devil is in the detail", and Murdoch Snr appeared to have little or no grasp of the detail. A narrow escape for the 83-year-old, who endured the indignity of a custard pie in the face last time he was in town.
Like James Murdoch, Coulson has always insisted that he had no idea that phone hacking was taking place when he edited the NotW between 2003 and 2007. Goodman's letter begs to differ. It says: "This practice was widely discussed at the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor."
Goodman also claimed that he had been offered his old job back by Coulson as long as he "did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea".
Coulson has been asked by MPs if he wishes to clarify the evidence he gave to the culture committee. He is currently on police bail after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept voicemails and conspiracy to make corrupt payments.
The Guardian points out that Coulson reiterated his assertion that he knew nothing of hacking while under oath in a Scottish court last year. The paper casually notes: "The typical penalty for perjury is years rather than months in jail."
Coulson took the job as David Cameron's director of communications after leaving the NotW under a cloud in 2007 because of the hacking scandal. He only resigned when the affair blew up again earlier this year.
The Prime Minister has said he now regrets hiring Coulson and "with hindsight" he would not have done so. He probably means it. Cameron was vilified after it emerged that he had been warned against hiring Coulson. And the worse it gets for Coulson the worse it gets for the PM.
For one thing it prompts questions over whether he carried out due diligence on a man who had such serious allegations made against him. James Robinson in the Guardian asks: "Surely if he had been vetted for No 10, someone would have spoken to Goodman?"
Whatever else, it has certainly given his political enemies plenty of ammunition. Yesterday Labour leader Ed Miliband twisted the knife yet again and said Cameron's judgment in hiring Coulson had been "catastrophic".
As publisher of the NotW, Hinton was sent a copy of Goodman's 2007 letter that made the claims about hacking. His boss of 40 years, Rupert Murdoch, later said the company took a zero-tolerance approach to criminality. But Hinton does not appear to have acted on the claims in the letter.
He later told MPs: "There was never firm evidence provided... that implicated anybody else other than Clive within the staff of the NotW. It just did not happen and had it happened then we would have acted."
Hinton has since gone to New York to be publisher of the Wall Street Journal - a job he resigned from last month. He has been asked, along with the NotW's former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, to reappear before MPs.
The NotW editor who became chief executive of NI and resigned on the same day as Hinton, does not appear to have been directly implicated in the documents released yesterday. But the growing feeling that top brass new about hacking at the paper leaves her on thin ice, as she, like Coulson, has denied all knowledge.
She, too, has been asked if she would like to clarify her evidence of July 19. If she does, it will be the third time that she had appeared before the committee.
Previously she had accused the Guardian of "misleading" the public with its coverage of the scandal. She is currently on bail on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemails and conspiracy to make corrupt payments.
Sir Paul Stephenson.
It has been a bad day for most of the people implicated in the hacking scandal, but for the senior police officers caught up in the affair there has been better news.
Stephenson, who stepped down as commissioner of the Met last month, was today cleared by the Independent Police Complaints Commission of misconduct over the police investigation into phone hacking. Assistant commissioners John Yates and Andy Hayman, and the former Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, were also cleared.
Claims that Yates secured a Scotland Yard job for the daughter of hacking suspect Neil Wallis are still being looked into. ·
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