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LONDON – Pressure is mounting on James Murdoch to explain his knowledge of phone-hacking allegations after the Parliamentary Culture Media and Sport Committee Tuesday published a cache of devastating documents showing that phone-hacking was known about by senior executives at News International as early as 2008, almost three years before the publisher admitted that the problem was systemic.
A legal opinion dated June 2008 prepared for News International lawyer by Queen’s Counsel Michael Silverleaf, said that there was “overwhelming evidence” that senior journalists were involved in what amounted to “a culture” of illegal phone-hacking at the newspaper.
The lawyer also said that News of The World investigator Glenn Mulcaire appeared to have been hired purely “to engage in illegal gathering.”
Silverleaf was hired as an external senior barrister in 2008 to advise News International on the legal case being brought against it by Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
James Murdoch later approved a payment of almost $3 million to keep the case out of court.
The damning legal opinion tells News International’s legal team that the chance of winning the case is “slim to non-existent” because of the amount of “truly damaging” information that Taylor’s legal team had obtained after getting a court order to access the documents in a previous legal case against Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed for four months in relation to hacking the phones of members of the Royal family.
“In addition there is substantial surrounding material about the extent of NGN journalists’ attempts to obtain access to information illegally in relation to other individuals.” The Silverleaf legal Opinion went on.
“In the light of these facts there is a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at News Group Newspaper in order to produce stories for publication.
The Silverleaf memo was sent to Tom Crone, the News of The World’s internal lawyer.
“Not only does this mean that NGN is virtually certain to be held liable to Mr Taylor, to have this paraded at a public trial would, I imagine, be extremely damaging to NGN’s public reputation. If the trial proceeds there would seem to be little doubt that Mr Taylor’s case will be advanced on the basis that Mr Mulcaire was specifically employed by NGN to engage in illegal gathering.”
These new documents could prove immensely damaging to James Murdoch’s claim that he had not been aware of the suggestion that phone-hacking had gone beyond one reporter when he authorised the near $3 million payment.
Murdoch will face tough questions on what he knew about the payment when he is recalled on November 10, given the extent to which the information about illegal behaviour was known internally.
But it is still unclear the extent to which James Murdoch, then chief executive of News International was fully informed.
In a handwritten memo of a conversation between former News of The World editor Colin Myler and an advisor to Silverleaf, Julian Pike of Farrar’s Solicitors, about five reporters under investigation, Pike appears to quote Myler in a handwritten scrawl: “Les no longer here – James wld say get rid of them – cut out cancer.”
The most likely interpretation of the – note could be that Myler had told Pike that James Murdoch would not have entertained keeping the reporters on, however senior.
James Murdoch is due to give evidence again to the House of Commons Parliamentary Committee on November 10
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