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LONDON – Lawyers for News Corp’s Management Standards Committee have confirmed that the British MP Tom Watson was put under surveillance by News International in 2009.
London legal firm Linklaters, acting for News Corp, said surveillance was authorized by three un-named News International employees.
The surveillance occurred on James Murdoch’s watch as News International’s boss and at a time that the company was still arguing publicly that issues around phone-hacking had been dealt with.
In a published letter sent to the John Whittingdale, the chairman of the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport committee, Linklaters said the News Corp’s Management Standards Committee was continuing to investigate the issue of covert surveillance carried out by the News of The World, and that “its inquiries were not yet complete.”
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Thus far, the internal investigation has established that Watson – the pugnacious MP who has proved one of Rupert Murdoch’s fiercest critics – was put under surveillance by private investigator Derek Webb in 2009.
In reference to a separate question, the MSC also confirmed that former CEO Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested and bailed earlier this year, authorised a settlement of $790,000 to celebrity PR Max Clifford, another phone-hacking victim, in February 2010. The settlement was not discussed with either the board of News Group Newspapers – from which James Murdoch recently resigned – or with the boards of News International or News Corporation.
The surveillance on Watson was ordered by three News International employees, the legal firm said, but declined to identify them because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
“We do not think it is appropriate to name the individuals involved given the police investigation. We have discussed this with the Metropolitan Police who share this view. “
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The law firm went on to say that the Management Standards Committee had “seen no information yet to suggest that any other member of the committee or their family or friends was under surveillance.
The letter comes a week after Mark Lewis, the solicitor who represented the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, told the Leveson Inquiry that News International had “tried to destroy my life and very nearly succeeded.” Lewis was shown surveillance video of his ex-wife and his teenage daughter, who had been followed and secretly filmed by investigators for the newspaper in 2010.
Lewis had been put under surveillance, alongside Charlotte Harris, another lawyer representing phone-hacking victims – whose children and friends had also been followed and filmed.
Next week the Leveson Inquiry – a judicial investigation into press standards and conduct – is expected to hear from former News International lawyer Tom Crone, News of the World senior reporter Neville Thurlbeck and editor Colin Myler are also expected to give evidence under oath.
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