The parliamentary committee investigating illegal voicemail hacking at News International has released a cache of internal company documents showing that the firm was well aware of just how deep its phone hacking scandal went way back in 2008, when it was still publicly claiming that the problem was limited to a few bad apples.
And it's all just in time for James Murdoch to appear before the Committee on Culture, Media, and Sport next week, in a reprise of his appearance last summer. This time, however, his interlocutors will have fairly compelling evidence that he was lying back then. In July, Murdoch repeatedly swore that he had no earthly idea that he was running what amounts to a criminal enterprise until late 2010, when the Guardian began blowing the lid off the extent of phone hacking at News International. Before then, Murdoch claimed, he thought the hacking was limited to the two men who had admitted to it publicly—private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman.
Almost immediately after Murdoch was done testifying, however, two of his former employees came forward jointly to accuse him of lying: Former NOTW editor Colin Myler and former News International legal manager Tom Crone claimed that they informed Murdoch back in 2008 that the phone hacking went beyond Mulcaire and Goodman.
Now the committee's newly released documents lend credence to that claim. Chief among them is an extraordinary legal consultation, dated 2008, from the Michael Silverleaf, the lead lawyer representing News International in a lawsuit brought by hacking victim Gordon Taylor. Silverleaf was astringently pessimistic about News International's prospects for victory, and he flatly laid out the extent of the criminality that at News of the World and Murdoch's News Group Newspapers (NGN):
There is overwhelming evidence of the involvement of a number of senior NGN journalists in the illegal enquiries into [redacted]. In addition there is substantial surrounding material about the extent of NGN journalists' attempts to obtain access to information illegally in relation to other individuals. In 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 a public trial would, I imagine, be extremely damaging to NGN's public reputation.
You don't say! That's pretty much how it turned out. While there's no evidence that Murdoch himself read Silverleaf's memo, it's becoming increasingly clear that if James didn't know about the "culture" at the newspapers he ran, then he must have been epically and heroically clueless as to what was going on under his nose.
The latter scenario is highly unlikely, particularly when one considers another of the documents unloaded today by Parliament—the notes of a May 2008 conversation that Myler had with Murdoch. The two men discussed Taylor's lawsuit, and whether to settle. One part of Myler's notes read, "James wld say get rid of them—cut out cancer."
Keep in mind that, at this point, Murdoch is claiming that he knew of only two rogue men involved in phone hacking—Mulcaire and Goodman. Only Goodman had been employed as a News International staffer, and he had been terminated in 2007. So one question that will inevitably be asked of him next weeks is: Whom, precisely, did Murdoch regard as of May 2008 as a "cancer" that needed to be "cut out"? And why?
[Photos via Getty Images and AP]