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LONDON – Twenty-seven News International employees were named in private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notes about his phone-hacking work, the Leveson inquiry revealed Monday.
The huge scale of criminal activity at News Corporation’s London newspaper operation was revealed for the first time as the Judicial inquiry, led by Lord Justice Leveson, began its evidence sessions.
Set up in the wake of the News of The World closure, it has been given the task of investigating the issues around phone-hacking, newspaper intrusion and relations between the press and police.
The inquiry opened by taking a very hard line on the wider culture at the News Corporation division run by James Murdoch since 2007.
Inquiry counsel Robert Jay Q.C said there was clear evidence of what amounted to “at the very least a thriving cottage industry” of illegal activity had taken place at The News of The World, involving multiple private investigators and many former staff.
He revealed that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had been given 2246 separate investigation “tasks” by reporters on the paper, and said that the police investigation into illegal hacking found evidence of at least 690 audio recordings in the first police raid in 2006.
Investigating police inquiry Operation Weeting now believes that almost 6000 people may have been the victims of illegal phone intercepts.
On the subject of the controversial payment to phone-hacking victim Gordon Taylor that was personally authorized by James Murdoch, Jay was particularly harsh.
Murdoch has denied seeing an internal News International legal opinion written in 2008 by Michael Silverleaf QC, which found ” a culture” of illegal activity at the News of The World and advised the company that it had no choice but to settle in the Gordon Taylor case.
Jay told the Leveson inquiry that this handling of the legal advice pointed to “a culture of denial and cover-up” at News International.
Speaking at the Parliamentary Culture Committee last week, Murdoch said he had only been given “sufficient information” about the case to agree to settle but had not sought or been given anything by the company’s lawyer Tom Crone suggesting that the issue of criminal hacking went further.
“Either the contents of the report were passed up – in which case we can make an inference …or the decision was taken not to pass up the information. In that case we can draw a different inference. In either case we can draw inferences about the culture.”
Jay told the Leveson inquiry that the handling of the legal advice pointed to “a culture of denial and cover-up” at News International.
Speaking more generally about what seems to be the widespread knowledge of phone interceptions at the newspaper – with 27 News International staff identified in Glenn Mulcaire’s notes – Inquiry counsel made a broader point.
“Either senior management knew and condoned the activities …or they did not know and there was a failure of supervision and oversight,” Jay said. “In either case we have evidence of a systemic and cultural problem.”
In the next few weeks The judicial inquiry, with a brief to investigate phone-hacking, will summon witnesses – expected to include James Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested and charged earlier this year.
Sienna Miller, JK Rowling and Hugh Grant may also give evidence of their experience of phone-hacking later this year.
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