LONDON – James Murdoch’s former legal adviser and a former editor contested the testimony he gave to British lawmakers, saying Thursday he was told years ago about an email that suggested the rot at his Sunday tabloid was far more widespread than previously claimed.
Their statement could deal a blow to the credibility of Rupert Murdoch’s son as the family struggles to limit the damage from a phone-hacking scandal.
James Murdoch, in a grilling by lawmakers on Tuesday, batted away claims that he knew the full extent of the illegal espionage at the News of the World when he approved a massive payout in 2008 to soccer players’ association chief Gordon Taylor, one of the phone hacking victims.
Murdoch’s News International had long maintained that the eavesdropping was limited to a single rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, and the private investigator he was working with to break into voice mails of members of the royal household.
But an email uncovered during legal proceedings seemed to cast doubt on that claim. It contained a transcript of an illegally obtained conversation, drawn up by a junior reporter and marked “for Neville” – an apparent reference to the News of the World’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck.
Because it seemed to implicate others in the hacking, the email had the potential to blow a hole through News International’s fiercely held contention that one reporter alone had engaged in hacking. If Murdoch knew about the email – and was aware of its implication – it would lend weight to the suggestion that he’d approved the payoff in an effort to bury the scandal.
Murdoch told lawmakers he was not aware of the email at the time, but in a statement late Thursday, former News International legal manager Tom Crone and former News of the World editor Colin Myler contradicted him.
“We would like to point out that James Murdoch’s recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken,” they said. “In fact, we did inform him of the ‘for Neville’ email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor’s lawyers.”