NoW executives found in contempt of Commons over phone hacking

Parliamentary standards committee finds against newspaper’s former editor and legal manager over evidence they gave

A parliamentary committee has found the former News of the World editor Colin Myler and legal manager Tom Crone in contempt of the House of Commons over evidence they gave about the phone-hacking scandal.

But Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International – now known as News UK – was cleared of misleading the culture, media and sport select committee during its investigation.

The finding by the select committee of privileges follows an excoriating report in 2012 from the culture select committee at the height of the scandal, which ultimately led to the closure of the News of the World and criminal proceedings against several senior journalists, including its former editor Andy Coulson.

The culture committee’s 121-page report on phone hacking concluded that News International executives sought to “buy silence” and downplay the extent of hacking at the paper when summoned to give evidence before the committee over several years.

The company’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, was accused of “wilful blindness” to phone hacking at the Sunday tabloid and was described as “not a fit person”.

His son James Murdoch was described as exhibiting a “lack of curiosity” and “wilful ignorance” at the time of negotiations to settle a potential legal claim by the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, following the hacking of his phone.

Hinton was accused of “inexcusably” misleading of parliament over a £243,000 settlement with the former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, who had been jailed in 2007 for his part in phone hacking.

Myler, the paper’s last editor before it closed in July 2011, and Crone were accused of deliberately avoiding the disclosure of critical information to the committee and answering questions falsely.

The culture committee referred its report to the privileges and standards committee to investigate complaints that it was grossly unfair to NoW executives, in what has become a test case for parliament on how it responds when witnesses allegedly mislead parliamentary committees.

Tom Crone (left) and Les Hinton.
Tom Crone (left) and Les Hinton. Photograph: PA

Crone has survived a series of investigations by police and was recently cleared of six professional misconduct charges over his use of a private detective to investigate his legal opponents’ sex lives.

The privileges committee found that:

  • Crone had misled the culture committee in 2009 by giving a “counter-impression” of the significance of the confidentiality of the Gordon Taylor settlement, the scale of which was later concluded to relate to the fact he had been hacked.
  • He had misled the committee by “answering questions falsely” about his knowledge of the involvement of the paper’s employees in hacking.

The report however cleared Crone of seeking to mislead the committee about the commissioning of surveillance on people of interest to the News of the World.

The penalties available to the house in cases of contempt include the power to summon a person to the bar of the house to be reprimanded, to imprison them and to fine them. In this case the committee recommended “formal admonishment”.

Crone immediately hit out at the report saying he did not accept the findings. He said it was “regrettable” that the culture committee had chosen to “ignore completely” the evidence he gave, which was that he had accepted “unequivocally” at the outset of his appearance that hacking went beyond the activities of the paper’s royal editor.

The committee concluded on Wednesday that Myler, who emerged unscathed from the phone-hacking scandal, had misled the culture committee by “answering questions falsely about [his] knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone hacking and other wrongdoing”.

Myler, who was editor of the News of the World between 2007 and 2011, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the committee’s findings, which he said were made despite evidence in its report which “plainly contradicts” its conclusions.

“It is profoundly disappointing that the privileges committee has chosen to act in a manner which serves to discredit parliamentary procedures rather than enhance the very authority and respect which they profess to command,” he said.

The committee found the allegation made by the culture committee that Hinton had sought to mislead it over the extent of a payoff to Goodman was “not significantly more likely than not to be true”.

It said the evidence that Hinton had also misled the committee over his knowledge of Goodman and phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire’s activities did not meet the “standard of proof set for a finding of contempt”.

It also criticised the committee’s scepticism about Hinton’s memory of events. Hinton resigned in 2011 after 52 years working with Murdoch because he felt the phone-hacking scandal was affecting the reputation of another of the tycoon’s titles, the Wall Street Journal.

In a statement, he described the findings as “too little and too late”, coming so long after he was “vilified” by the committee. “Parliament has a back-to-front idea of justice and fairness when it claims these standards after allowing the sham trial and free-for-all character assassination I experienced in 2012,” he said.

In a sign that the phone-hacking scandal has some way to run, Labour MP Paul Farrelly, who was on the culture, media and sport select committee, said he would want to re-examine the evidence of Rebekah Brooks, who was cleared of all criminal charges relating to hacking two years ago.

He also wanted to revisit the evidence of Coulson, who was jailed for phone-hacking offences.

Farrelly said he was pleased that the privileges committee had agreed that Crone and Myler had misled the culture committee. But he said the second half of the report was “disappointing”; that the committee had drawn confusing conclusions over Hinton; and that there was “plenty of evidence that the organisation long obstructed the search for the truth, yet the privileges committee finds itself unable to draw that conclusion”.


Lisa O'Carroll and agencies

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