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New evidence cited in British hacking scandal

Letter shows practice known at newspaper

Reporter Clive Goodman asserted in his letter that the practice of phone hacking was ‘widely discussed in the daily editorial conference.’ Reporter Clive Goodman asserted in his letter that the practice of phone hacking was ‘widely discussed in the daily editorial conference.’
By Alan Cowell and Ravi Somaiya
New York Times / August 17, 2011

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LONDON - A high-profile parliamentary panel investigating phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid released embarrassing new evidence yesterday that the practice of intercepting voicemail had been widely discussed at the newspaper, contradicting assertions by its owners and editors.

The disclosures threatened to push the scandal back to the forefront of public concern, raising worrying questions for Murdoch and for the British prime minister, David Cameron, who hired a former News of the World editor as his director of communications and has been taunted by the opposition for poor judgment in doing so.

The newest allegations are contained in a four-year-old letter released for the first time from Clive Goodman, News of the World’s former royal correspondent, who served a jail term for hacking the mobile phones of members of the royal family, to a senior human resources executive who had informed him that he was being dismissed.

In addition to the Goodman letter, the parliamentary panel also released a letter from Harbottle & Lewis, a law firm hired by the Murdochs, that they have repeatedly cited as having given the News of the World a “clean bill of health’’ in reviewing a cache of e-mails in 2007.

The letter contradicts that assertion and says its own investigation had been limited strictly to advising the company in its employment dispute with Goodman. The disclosures could mean that both Rupert Murdoch and his son James, head of the Murdoch media empire’s European operations, could be recalled after testifying to the parliamentary panel last month. Tom Watson, a Labor lawmaker and member of the panel, also said Andy Coulson, who was editor of the newspaper at the time, could be summoned to give further evidence.

The scandal has spread through Britain’s public life and media world.

Coulson quit his job with the prime minister in January as the hacking scandal spread.

Rupert Murdoch closed the 168-year-old News of the World after the scandal exploded last month with reports that the newspaper had ordered the hacking of the cellphone of an abducted 13-year-old schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, who was found killed in 2002.

The correspondence, made public by the House of Commons select committee on culture, media, and sport, is likely to embarrass former senior officials in the Murdoch empire who denied that phone hacking was widely practiced.

Rupert and James Murdoch appeared at a dramatic hearing held by the committee last month, punctuated by a bizarre episode when a prankster attacked the older Murdoch with a foam pie.

In Goodman’s letter, dated March 2, 2007, Goodman challenged his dismissal, saying that his actions “were carried out with the full knowledge and support’’ of other senior journalists.

He also said another senior journalist arranged for payments to a private investigator who carried out the hacking.

Goodman also asserted in his letter that the practice of phone hacking was “widely discussed in the daily editorial conference’’ at the paper until “explicit reference to it was banned by the editor.’’

Watson said the committee had seen two versions of the letter, one of which had been more heavily redacted than the other.

One version sent to the committee by News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of the Murdoch family’s News Corp., had been redacted to black out references to “editorial conference’’ and “the editor.’’

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