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Wednesday, November 02, 2011 

Anyone for The Murdochs?

If at times it's seemed as though the News of the World was going through the Kubler-Ross model of dealing with grief when responding to the allegations of phone-hacking, it's perhaps not surprising that we now learn the Murdoch clan last year discussed the "succession" at News Corporation with a family therapist. It's more than a little fitting that those whom pay the bills for the Simpsons (albeit grudgingly) are themselves such a dysfunctional family. There's Daddy himself, the crotchety patriarch with the trophy wife on his arm, the former heir apparent James, with the tattoos and inculcated swaggering arrogance, and Liz, furious at James for having "fucked" her father's company by not getting a grip on a little local difficulty. Should News Corp disintegrate into the dust once Keith does pop his clogs, they could do worse than invite the cameras in to film a reality TV show that would make the Osbournes seem like the Brady Bunch.

Unfortunately for junior it looks at though things are going to get worse. Next week he has to appear again before the parliamentary culture, media and sport committee, where he'll be asked to account for the discrepancy between the account he gave alongside his father and that of Colin Myler and Tom Crone, former editor and legal affairs manager on the Screws respectively. Murdoch maintains he hadn't seen the crucial "for Neville" email, the key piece of evidence which proved knowledge of phone hacking went beyond Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire at the paper, while Myler and Crone both say that he did.

Their version of events seems to be backed up by the latest cache of documents released to the committee, this time from those fine people at Farrer & Co, the same band of lawyers who back in the ethers of time injuncted my good self for daring to republish some in the public domain photographs of Mazher Mahmood. Julian Pike at the firm was called in to advise on the unpleasant matter of the voicemail hacking of Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA. Taylor had through court order obtained the documentation seized by the police from Glenn Mulcaire, documentation that showed journalists other than Clive Goodman had been involved in his case. As Crone outlines in a memo to Myler, this evidence was fatal to any chance of fighting the claim for compensation from Taylor. It also would explode the lie that phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter and his gopher. Crone was immediately offering, through Farrers, a £150,000 settlement to Taylor.

The documents then, as well as dealing simply with Taylor, also show how the cover up was put in place. The next email from Crone to Pike shows that contrary to the evidence subsequently given by Crone to the committee back in 2009, Neville Thurlbeck did remember seeing the transcripts written up for him by Ross Hindley (also known as Ross Hall), although he was only going "to do the showdown and write up". Next is an illegible page of notes by Pike, which thankfully someone managed to decipher, of his conversation with Myler about his meeting with Murdoch. He apparently recommended waiting for the QC's view before deciding on a settlement. It therefore seems extraordinary that Myler or someone else hadn't informed Murdoch of the "for Neville" email, seeing as it was the clichéd smoking gun than meant they were going to have to pay out at the very least £150,000 of Pa's money to some nobody.

Also wholly lacking is any back-up for Crone's other claim in 2009 that it was Taylor who first asked for a confidentiality clause. Indeed, it seems it was the NotW that originally brought one up, at the same time as offering £300,000 in damages. If Taylor signed up to an agreement, then some more could possibly be found. Mark Lewis, Taylor's solicitor, intimated that his client would definitely button it for a million, plus his own costs, at a cool £200,000. Taylor either wanted to "be vindicated or made rich".

As it's turned out, he's been both. Whoever Nick Davies' source for his 2009 report was, it started in motion the next series of investigations and follow-ups, along with News International's increasingly hysterical denials, followed eventually by acceptance. Michael Silverleaf, "the silk" asked for his advice on how to proceed summed up the position NI faced as only a brief can:

In the light of these facts there is a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at NGN in order to produce stories for publication. Not only does this mean that NGN is virtually certain to be held liable to Mr Taylor, to have this paraded at public trial would, I imagine, be extremely damaging to NGN's public reputation.

Not as damaging however as the cover up turned out to be.

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