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The story of Mr Goodman and Mr Justice Gross

When did News International have firm independent evidence of wider participation in phone hacking?

Clive Goodman wrote a couple of letters to News International back in March 2007. They were published last month when they were included in materials released to the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport.

Commenters seized on the first of these two letters to say it finally demolished the "lone rogue reporter" narrative promoted by News International executives since 2006.

In that first letter, Goodman tells News International that the practice of phone hacking "was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor". Tom Watson MP said the letter was "absolutely devastating" and added:

Clive Goodman's letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far. It completely removes News International's defence. This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime.

The date of this first letter - 2 March 2007 - is important. Goodman - along with Glenn Mulcaire - had pleaded guilty to offences in respect of phone hacking on 29 November 2006.

For some time previously it had been clear within News International that Goodman was going to plead guilty. However, Goodman was not sentenced until 26 January 2007, when he received a sentence of four months' imprisonment.

It was only on 5 February 2007, over a week after sentencing, that Goodman was dismissed. This dismissal was by means of a letter from Les Hinton, Executive Chairman of News International Limited, dated the same day. This stated that Goodman's employment was to be terminated with immediate effect.

There is nothing in the 5 February 2007 letter which explains why the dismissal had not occurred at the dates of plea or of sentencing. And there is no mention of why no disciplinary procedure had commenced beforehand.

Goodman's response was to send that letter of 2 March 2007 (there may also have been "without prejudice" correspondence as well, which has not been disclosed). In one way, the assertions in the letter of 2 March 2007 are quite as remarkable as Watson suggests.

On receipt of the letter, News International had written evidence from a former reporter of wider discussions in the newsroom about phone hacking. As such, the evidence of Hinton to the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport just four days later, on 6 March 2007, is remarkable. In particular, the following two exchanges take on a new light:

Q90 Chairman: Les, can I come back to the Goodman case? The official version of events appears to be that Clive Goodman broke the law and has paid the penalty for doing so; that his editor was unaware that he broke the law but nevertheless took responsibility, because he was the editor, and resigned; and that is the end of it. Can you tell us what investigations you carried out to determine whether or not anybody else was aware of what Clive Goodman was doing?

Mr Hinton: First of all, the police obviously carried out pretty thorough investigations, and the result of their investigation was the charge against Clive and against the private detective. Clive went to prison; the News of the World paid a substantial amount to charities nominated by Prince Harry, Prince William and the editor, who told me he had no knowledge of this activity but felt that, since it had happened on his watch, he should take his share of the responsibility, and he resigned. The new editor has been given a very clear remit to make certain that everything is done in the form of seminars and meetings. We were already doing this kind of thing in the past with all our newspapers. It has been reemphasised. They are all attending. There is mandatory attendance at seminars, understanding the law and understanding the limits; understanding that, in the event that there is a judgment that the public interest might warrant some stepping over the line, it has to be authorised by the editor at the very least. That is all being done now. I believe absolutely that Andy did not have knowledge of what was going on. However, he is no longer the editor and what matters now is that we have to start somewhere. What we are doing now is a very rigorous programme to make sure that the conduct of the journalists there is as impeccable as it reasonably can be expected to be.

Q95 Chairman: You carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry, and you are absolutely convinced that Clive Goodman was the only person who knew what was going on?

Mr Hinton: Yes, we have and I believe he was the only person, but that investigation, under the new editor, continues.

It may well be that Hinton was unaware of the 2 March 2007 letter: it was addressed to the director of human resources rather than to Hinton personally, even though Hinton had signed the dismissal letter. There may be other explanations for Hinton confidently asserting, despite the 2 March 2007 letter, that he believed absolutely that Coulson had no idea what was going on.

However, the 2 March 2007 letter can only take so much evidential weight. It could well be the bare contention of an aggrieved former employee seeking compensation: a mere negotiating token. At that desperate stage, Goodman would say that, wouldn't he?

This is why the context of the 2 March 2007 letter is crucial, and an examination of the other documents recently disclosed, as well as of the evidence given before previous select committees, leads to a more complex picture of what happened. The general effect is to discredit the convenient "rogue reporter" narrative far more than Goodman's convenient allegation.

Goodman had been sentenced on 26 January 2007 by Mr Justice Gross. But Goodman was not the only defendant sentenced that day; Mulcaire was sentenced to six months. And, critically, Mulcaire was also convicted and sentenced for interceptions not related to the royal household.

This is the CPS's own description of how the charges came about from July 2009:

From a prosecution point of view what was important was that any case brought to court properly reflected the overall criminal conduct of Goodman and Mulcaire.

It was the collective view of the prosecution team that to select five or six potential victims would allow the prosecution properly to present the case to the court and in the event of convictions, ensure that the court had adequate sentencing powers.

To that end there was a focus on the potential victims where the evidence was strongest, where there was integrity in the data, corroboration was available and where any charges would be representative of the potential pool of victims. The willingness of the victims to give evidence was also taken into account. Any other approach would have made the case unmanageable and potentially much more difficult to prove.

This is an approach that is adopted routinely in cases where there is a large number of potential offences.

For any potential victim not reflected in the charges actually brought, it was agreed that the police would inform them of the situation.

Adopting this approach, five further counts were added to the indictment against Mulcaire alone based on his unlawful interception of voicemail messages left for Max Clifford, Andrew Skylet, Gordon Taylor, Simon Hughes and Elle MacPherson.

In addition to obtaining evidence from these persons, the police also asked the reviewing lawyer to take a charging decision against one other suspect. On analysis, there was insufficient evidence to prosecute that suspect and a decision was made in November 2006 not to charge. So far as I am aware, this individual was neither a journalist on, nor an executive of, any national newspaper.

This progress in the case meant that its preparation was completed by the time Goodman and Mulcaire appeared at the Central Criminal Court on 29 November 2006 before Mr Justice Gross. When they did appear at court, Goodman and Mulcaire both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to intercept communications of the voicemail messages left for members of the Royal Household. Mulcaire alone pleaded guilty to the five further substantive counts in respect of Max Clifford, Andrew Skylet, Gordon Taylor, Simon Hughes and Elle MacPherson. The case was then adjourned to obtain probation reports on the defendants.

On 26 January 2007 sentencing took place. Goodman was sentenced to four months' imprisonment and Mulcaire to a total of six months’ imprisonment, with a confiscation order made against him in the sum of £12,300.

Now we come to what Mr Justice Gross said in his sentencing remarks on 22 January 2007. He said of Glenn Mulcaire:

As to Counts 16 to 20 [relating to the phone-hacking of Max Clifford, Simon Hughes MP, Andrew Skylett, Elle Macpherson and Gordon Taylor], you had not dealt with Goodman but with others at News International.

This means that the contention that others at News International worked with Mulcaire is not just the self-serving claim of Goodman seeking a settlement package; it is also the considered view of a judge sentencing a person for a custodial sentence in view of the evidence then before him.

So it is not just the 2 March 2007 letter which placed News International on formal notice of allegations that phone hacking went wider than Goodman; it was clear from the sentencing remarks of the judge.

The sentencing remarks have been noticed before. In 2009, Paul Farrelly MP put them to News International's then legal manager Tom Crone:

Q1399 Paul Farrelly: Mr Myler, in evidence to the PCC you said in February 2007, and tell me whether the PCC's quote is accurate in their report, "This was an exceptionally unhappy event in the 163 year history of News of the World involving one journalist". They quote you as saying that Goodman was a "rogue exception". That is accurate, is it?

But in the court case in January the judge has said, "As to counts 16-20", which were the counts involving Max Clifford, Simon Hughes, Elle Macpherson, Sky Andrew and Gordon Taylor, who are not Royals, to Mulcaire, "you had not dealt with Goodman but with others at News International".

On the basis of that import, how could you say that this was one rogue exception involving one journalist?

Mr Crone: I was in court actually and I remember him saying that and my immediate reaction - obviously nothing I could voice - was "Why is he saying that?", because the prosecution did not open it, saying there was such a connection.

Q1400 Paul Farrelly: So the judge's summary is wrong?

Mr Crone: I cannot remember hearing anything in court from the prosecution to justify that.

What Crone's response shows is that back in January 2007 the lawyers at News International were well aware that the judge had said that Mulcaire had worked with others in the News of the World newsroom. In this respect, Goodman's letter some six weeks later could have hardly have come as a shock; Goodman was essentially only repeating what the sentencing judge had stated when presented with the evidence against Mulcaire.

In my view, the sentencing remarks constitute firm independent evidence that there was wider participation; indirect evidence, of course, but enough to raise a serious concern for those involved, even if News International had no direct access to the prosecution case and direct evidence against Mulcaire. Given these sentencing remarks (and Goodman's letter of 2 March 2007), it is impossible to understand the stance until recently of News International executives and lawyers that there was "no evidence" of wider participation of phone hacking.

This is especially the position, as last month's Harbottle & Lewis memorandum to the Select Committee rather helpfully states in passing (in footnote 26, tucked away at page 21), that News International actually instructed the law firm in July 2007 to obtain a full transcript of the sentencing remarks of Mr Justice Gross. (It is always worth reading footnotes.)

Therefore Goodman's letter of 2 March 2007 is important, but the sentencing remarks - of which News International had a transcript by July 2007 - are more telling. There can be no credible doubt that News International, from the sentencing of Goodman onwards, had evidence of wider participation in phone hacking beyond Goodman; if not conclusive evidence, it certainly enough to both warrant further investigation and render any outright denials of evidence as not possible.

However, it was to be Goodman's next letter of that March 2007 which was to have profound consequences for News International and others: indeed, potentially severe consequences which are perhaps yet to be fully felt. And that second letter of March 2007 will be the subject of my future post.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman.