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.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for historical child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

Operation Midland, which was set-up to check claims that boys were abused in the 1970s and 80s by a high-level group of paedophiles including politicians, military figures and members of law enforcement agencies, has had up to 40 detectives assigned to it and a similar investigation. Admittedly some of these were murder and major crimes officers but that’s still a large contingent.

In fact if such squads were formed for every historical case the Metropolitan Police would be overwhelmed as last year alone it received reports from nearly 1100 adults – many of them well past retirement age –that they were sexually assaulted when children.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.