Hacking 'widely discussed' at Murdoch tabloid: ex-reporter

LONDON, Aug 16, 2011 (AFP) - British lawmakers released Tuesday a letter from a former News of the World journalist claiming phone hacking was "widely discussed" at the tabloid and warned they could recall James Murdoch to give evidence.

AFP - The headquarters of News International is pictured in east London, on August 17, 2011

Clive Goodman, the paper's former royal editor who was jailed for hacking in 2007, also alleged that ex-editor Andy Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief, tried to cover up the scandal.

The letter released by parliament's media committee directly contradicts claims by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's top lieutenants that they were unaware of the phone hacking and that Goodman was a rogue reporter.

Tom Watson, a lawmaker on the committee, said the latest revelations were "devastating". Watson has led moves to probe the scandal, which has now claimed the jobs of two top British policemen and several Murdoch executives.

The committee has recalled four former Murdoch executives to testify on September 6 and said it may also recall James Murdoch, the tycoon's son, over alleged inconsistencies in his testimony at a hearing in July.

Goodman's accusation comes in a letter he wrote in March 2007 to appeal against his dismissal from the now-shuttered News of the World, after being jailed for conspiring to hack the phones of members of the royal household.

"This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor (Coulson)," Goodman wrote.

He also accused Coulson of offering not to sack him if he agreed not to drag Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper into the phone hacking row during his court case.

Goodman said the newspaper's senior legal manager, Tom Crone, and Coulson "promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea.

"I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise."

The tabloid's parent company, News International, tasked a law firm to look into 2,500 emails for evidence to support Goodman's claims, but Colin Myler, Coulson's successor as editor, told the committee they did not find it.

Coulson resigned as editor after Goodman and a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in January 2007 but always denied knowledge of hacking.

He went on to work for Cameron but resigned in January amid continuing allegations, just days before police reopened the probe into the scandal.

Coulson was arrested on July 8 on suspicion of phone-hacking and bribing police. Goodman was rearrested the same day on suspicion of police bribery.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the latest revelations because there is an ongoing police investigation and Cameron had set up a judicial inquiry.

But she recalled that the prime minister had promised to issue a "profound apology" if it turned out that Coulson had lied, and has admitted that with hindsight he would not have offered Coulson the job.

Opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband seized on the new evidence, accusing the prime minister of showing "catastrophic judgment" in his appointment of Coulson.

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch shut the News of the World in July after claims the tabloid had hacked the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl, as well as the families of dead British troops and the victims of terror attacks.

A spokesman for News International said: "We recognise the seriousness of materials disclosed to the police and parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities."

But the parliamentary committee said it would on September 6 recall Crone, Myler, News International human resources director Daniel Cloke and former legal director John Chapman.

"Depending on their evidence under questioning, the committee may also have further questions for James Murdoch and others," it said in a statement.

The two Murdochs gave evidence to the committee on July 19, in a hearing that was disrupted when a man hit Rupert Murdoch in the face with a foam pie.

James Murdoch said he was unaware of an email suggesting knowledge of hacking went wider than Goodman and Mulcaire when he authorised a payout to an alleged victim, and he repeated this in a letter to the committee published Tuesday.

But Myler and Crone have said he was "mistaken", while in a separate letter Crone said the email was the "sole reason" for settling with the alleged victim and he had "no doubt" James Murdoch knew about it.

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