James Murdoch, who cancelled a planned trip to Asia to watch today’s media select committe hearing on phone hacking, will have had an uncomfortable morning. Colin Myler, the former (and final) editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, the paper’s former head of legal affairs, have stuck to their story and insisted that Murdoch did know about the infamous “for Neville” email – the document that blew a hole in News International’s “rogue reporter” defence.
Crone stumbled at one point and appeared unable to say whether Murdoch was aware that phone hacking extended beyond the paper’s royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire [the logical conclusion of the email, which featured a hacking transcript, marked for Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s chief reporter]. But Myler came to his rescue and insisted that “everybody understood the significance of the “for Neville” email.” In other words, not only did Murdoch know of the existence of the email, he also knew that it destroyed the paper’s legal defence.
Yet when he appeared before the select committee in July, the News International chairman denied that he was even made aware of the email. Here’s his exchange with Tom Watson:
Watson: “James – sorry, if I may call you James, to differentiate – when you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?”
James Murdoch: “No, I was not aware of that at the time.”
When this answer was queried by the Guardian, Murdoch’s office provided a written statement repeating his denial: “In June 2008 James Murdoch had given verbal approval to settle the case, following legal advice. He did this without knowledge of the ‘for Neville’ email.”
At one point, Crone said of Murdoch: “I can’t tell you whether on his part there was ambiguity.” If we assume that Crone and Myler are telling the truth, Murdoch’s only plausible defence is that the importance of the “for Neville” email was explained to him in the most opaque fashion. But Myler’s declaration that “everybody understood” its significance appears to rule out this possibility.
The conclusion from today’s evidence is clear: either Murdoch is lying, or Crone and Myler are. It is now imperative that the committee recalls Murdoch and asks him to resolve this contradiction.