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Tuesday, August 16, 2011 

Not quite the ocular proof. Yet.

There is a danger of putting a little too much emphasis on the Clive Goodman letter, released today by the culture committee, not least because it's the testimony of only one person, and also as it was doubtless an attempt by Goodman to try and get as much as he could out of News International. Even if he had been given assurances by Tom Crone and Andy Coulson that he could return to his job as long as he didn't implicate anyone else, the simple fact that both he and Mulcaire were imprisoned, with Coulson resigning, meant it was ludicrous to expect things could return to normal once he'd served his time. Suggestive of a cover-up as it is, if we were to see similar allegations from Glenn Mulcaire then it would give even more weight to what has long been suspected.

What it does demonstrate is that the "one rogue reporter" defence was always nonsense. If this had been a simple case of just Goodman and Mulcaire resorting to illegal methods, then both would have been dismissed immediately for gross misconduct and not paid a penny, regardless of "how many unblemished and frequently distinguished years of service to the News of the World" (PDF, page 37) Goodman had provided. Instead Les Hinton promised him a year's salary straight away, the hardly inconsiderable sum of £90,000, and expresses how "deeply sorry" he is at having to dismiss him. In the event, Goodman's appeals resulted in him not just taking home £90,000, but a further £150,000. Not many companies with nothing to hide would give such enormous settlements to employees convicted of a crime committed in their line of work.

Just as damning is the evidence given by Harbottle and Lewis, the law firm which it seems was more than slightly erroneously cited by both Murdochs as having partially given them the impression that phone hacking didn't extend beyond Goodman. In fact, as they painstakingly set out, their role was simply to investigate the accusations made by Goodman in his response to Hinton that his actions were carried out with the "full knowledge and support" of others on the paper. This investigation amounted to a simple trawl through emails which News International themselves provided, some of which were cut off and had attachments which couldn't be opened. Even when provided with hard copies of some of the messages there were some that remained only stubs. Their draft confirming that they had not found any evidence to substantiate Goodman's claims was then substantially altered in discussions between H&L and NI's Jon Chapman, including dropping the reference to the emails covering only a specific period (page 8). We also now know that even if the emails didn't contain any evidence relating to phone hacking, they did contain evidence which Ken Macdonald considered to suggest the News of the World had made payments to police officers, something which H&L stresses it could not report to the Met due to their legal obligations to NI (page 20).

While this isn't then quite the ocular proof of NI employees lying to all and sundry for years, nor the letter which will result in Andy Coulson being charged with perjury, it does narrow NI's defence and options even further. The truth will eventually out.

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How many ex-colleagues have to say "Coulson knew" before we stop giving him the benefit of the doubt?

Oh, I'm sure he knew. Proving it in a court is still going to be difficult though.

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