Former News of the World reporter writes that hacking was ‘widely discussed’ at British tabloid

August 16, 2011

Many senior executives at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World knew about phone hacking at the British tabloid, according to a 2007 letter written by a reporter that contradicts James Murdoch’s denials and drags Britain’s prime minister back into the scandal.

The claims put new pressure on James Murdoch, who runs News Corp.’s European operations, and further hurt his chances of succeeding his father, Rupert Murdoch, as chief executive.

In a letter written four years ago in an appeal against his dismissal from the tabloid, former royal reporter Clive Goodman said the practice of hacking was openly discussed until then-editor Andy Coulson banned any reference to it.

Coulson, who has repeatedly denied all knowledge of the practice, went on to become the official spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, a move that took the affair into the political arena and forced the government to turn on Rupert Murdoch after years of courting his favor.

“This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor,” said Goodman’s letter, published as part of a parliamentary investigation into hacking. “Other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.”

Goodman, who was jailed in 2007, said he had been told he could keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the newspaper — but was fired nonetheless after being sentenced to prison.

The committee investigating the hacking scandal said Tuesday that it would probably recall the younger Murdoch to give further evidence after receiving the Goodman letter and statements from other parties that contradicted his previous testimony.

“I think it is very likely that we will want to put those points to James Murdoch,” said committee head John Whittingdale, adding that the panel was unlikely to recall Rupert Murdoch.

Tom Watson, the lawmaker who has most doggedly pursued the scandal, told Sky News it could be months, if not years, before the full picture of what had happened at the newspaper emerged. “If this letter is accurate, the whole foundation of the company’s defense collapses,” he said.

Allegations of widespread hacking at News Corp.’s British newspaper arm, and in particular reports that journalists had used investigators to hack in to the voicemails of murder victims, sparked an uproar in Britain that dominated global headlines throughout July.

The controversy forced the company to close the 168-year-old News of the World, drop its most important acquisition in decades — the $12 billion purchase of BSkyB — and accept the resignation of two of its most senior newspaper executives.

— Reuters

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