Key Figure in the News Corp. Hacking Scandal Speaks Up For James Murdoch

Neville Thurlbeck, the former News of the World reporter whose name in the subject line of an e-mail—"For Neville"—was the thread that unraveled the whole hacking mess at News International, has spoken out for the first time. And he insists that James Murdoch had no idea what was going on.

In a rather overwrought first-person account in the Press Gazette, Thurlbeck insists that he had nothing to do with phone hacking at News of the World, that he tried to warn editor Rebekah Brooks about the rot at the paper, and that James Murdoch was blissfully unaware of the hacking going on under his nose.

Prior to 2009, when the Guardian began breaking the story open, News Corp. insisted that any voicemail hacking at the paper had been limited to "rogue" reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. The bit of evidence that gives the lie to that claim is a 2005 email from a NOTW underling to Mulcaire containing transcripts of hacked voicemails and the subject line "For Neville"—as in, "these transcripts of illegally accessed voicemail messages are for NOTW reporter Neville Thurlbeck." It is the first solid indication that reporters other than Goodman were involved in the hacking and that the Murdochs' "rogue reporter" line was a house of cards. James Murdoch claims that he wasn't aware of the email—and hence the widespread criminality in his shop—until last year. Two of his underlings say he's a liar, and that he learned of it in 2008. Thurlbeck was arrested on hacking charges in April.

In his Press Gazette piece, Thurlbeck claims that the emailed transcripts were actually not "For Neville" at all—the underling who transcribed them had made a mistake, and they were actually for "a certain executive" whom he declines to name "for legal reasons." What's more, Thurlbeck says, his boss and Murdoch favorite Rebekah Brooks—who has since been fired from her role as CEO of News International and arrested—had no clue about the hacking, and obsequious middle managers frustrated his efforts to warn her. Likewise, James Murdoch was entirely in the dark.

[T]here was a pattern of withholding vital information from James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.

And the same pattern which led to James Murdoch's oblivion to phone-hacking also led to my dismissal, the closure of the paper and the loss of nearly 300 jobs.

Whether this was because of the "iron filings" strategy [of isolating Thurlbeck], a fear of taking bad news to the boss or the pathological culture of secrecy which had lodged itself in the heart of the News of the World, we may never know.

James Murdoch should have the benefit of the doubt.

Thurlbeck also said he told Tom Watson, the Member of Parliament leading the parliamentary inquiry into the hacking mess, that James Murdoch was unaware of what was going on.

It's hard to suss out Thurlbeck's motivations at this point. He's in legal jeopardy over the hacking, so it's obvious that he would deny his role in that. Whether he has any reasons to carry water for Murdoch and Brooks is less clear.