History > 2009 > UK > Journalism (I)
paid £1m to gag phone-hacking victims
• News of the World bugging led to £700,000 payout
to PFA chief executive
• Sun editor Rebekah Wade
and Conservative communications chief Andy Coulson
– both ex-NoW
editors – involved
• News International chairman Les Hinton
told MPs reporter jailed
phone-hacking was one-off case
Wednesday 8 July 2009 17.33 BST
Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers has paid out more than £1m to settle
legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists' repeated
involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.
The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that
threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators
who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures
to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records,
social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet
ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private
Today, the Guardian reveals details of the suppressed evidence, which may open
the door to hundreds more legal actions by victims of News Group, the Murdoch
company that publishes the News of the World and the Sun, as well as provoking
police inquiries into reporters who were involved and the senior executives
responsible for them. The evidence also poses difficult questions for:
• Conservative leader David Cameron's director of communications, Andy Coulson,
who was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World when, the
suppressed evidence shows, journalists for whom he was responsible were engaging
in hundreds of apparently illegal acts.
• Murdoch executives who, albeit in good faith, misled a parliamentary select
committee, the Press Complaints Commission and the public.
• The Metropolitan police, which did not alert all those whose phones were
targeted, and the Crown Prosecution Service, which did not pursue all possible
charges against News Group personnel.
• The Press Complaints Commission, which claimed to have conducted an
investigation, but failed to uncover any evidence of illegal activity.
The suppressed legal cases are linked to the jailing in January 2007 of a News
of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, for hacking into the mobile phones of
three royal staff, an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
At the time, News International said it knew of no other journalist who was
involved in hacking phones and that Goodman had acted without their knowledge.
But one senior source at the Met told the Guardian that during the Goodman
inquiry, officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators
who hacked into "thousands" of mobile phones. Another source with direct
knowledge of the police findings put the figure at "two or three thousand"
mobiles. They suggest that MPs from all three parties and cabinet ministers,
including former deputy prime minister John Prescott and former culture
secretary Tessa Jowell, were among the targets.
Last night, Prescott said: "I think Mr Cameron should be thinking of getting rid
However, a spokeswoman for Cameron said the Tory leader was "very relaxed about
Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, one of many victims of mobile phone hacking by Rupert
Murdoch's News Group Newspapers, comments on the huge out-of-court settlements
Link to this video
News International has always maintained it had no knowledge of phone hacking by
anybody acting on its behalf.
Murdoch told Bloomberg news last night that he knew nothing about the payments.
"If that had happened I would know about it," he said.
A private investigator who had worked for News Group, Glenn Mulcaire, was also
jailed in January 2007. He admitted hacking into the phones of five other
targets, including the chief executive of the Professional Footballers'
Association, Gordon Taylor. Among the phones he hacked were those of the Lib Dem
MP Simon Hughes, celebrity PR Max Clifford, model Elle MacPherson and football
agent Sky Andrew. News Group denied all knowledge of the hacking, but Taylor
last year sued them on the basis that they must have known about it.
In documents initially submitted to the high court, News Group executives said
the company had not been involved in any way in Mulcaire's hacking of Taylor's
phone. They denied keeping any recording or notes of intercepted messages. But,
at the request of Taylor's lawyers, the court ordered the production of detailed
evidence from Scotland Yard's inquiry in the Goodman case, and from an inquiry
by the Information Commissioner's office into journalists who dishonestly obtain
confidential personal records.
The Scotland Yard files included paperwork which revealed that, contrary to News
Group's denial, Mulcaire had provided a recording of the messages on Taylor's
phone to a News of the World journalist who had transcribed them and emailed
them to a senior reporter, and that a News of the World executive had offered
Mulcaire a substantial bonus for a story specifically related to the intercepted
Several famous figures in football are among those whose messages were
intercepted. Coulson was editing the paper at this time. He said last night:
"This story relates to an alleged payment made after I left the News of the
World two and half years ago. I have no knowledge whatsoever of any settlement
with Gordon Taylor.
"The Mulcaire case was investigated thoroughly by the police and by the Press
Complaints Commission. I took full responsibility at the time for what happened
on my watch but without my knowledge and resigned."
The paperwork from the Information Commission revealed the names of 31
journalists working for the News of the World and the Sun, together with the
details of government agencies, banks, phone companies and others who were
conned into handing over confidential information. This is an offence under the
Data Protection Act unless it is justified by public interest.
Senior editors are among those implicated. This activity occurred before the
mobile phone hacking, at a time when Coulson was deputy and the editor was
Rebekah Wade, now due to become chief executive of News International. The
extent of their personal knowledge, if any, is not clear: the News of the World
has always insisted that it would not break the law and would use subterfuge
only if essential in the public interest.
Faced with this evidence, News International changed their position, started
offering huge cash payments to settle the case out of court, and finally paid
out £700,000 in legal costs and damages on the condition that Taylor signed a
gagging clause to prevent him speaking about the case. The payment is believed
to have included more than £400,000 in damages. News Group then persuaded the
court to seal the file on Taylor's case to prevent all public access, even
though it contained prima facie evidence of criminal activity.
The Scotland Yard paperwork also provided evidence that the News of the World
had been involved with Mulcaire in his hacking of the mobile phones of at least
two other football figures. They filed complaints, which were settled this year
when News International paid more than £300,000 in damages and costs on
condition that they signed gagging clauses.
Taylor declined to make any comment. Goodman, now out of jail, said: "My comment
is not even 'no comment'." A spokesman for News International said: "News
International feels it is inappropriate to comment at this time."
Last night, John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the culture, media
and sport select committee, said the revelation "raises a number of questions
that we would want to put to News International".
He added: "The fact that other people beyond the royal family had their calls
intercepted was well known. But we were absolutely assured by News International
that none of their journalists were aware of that, that Goodman was acting alone
and that Mulcaire was a rogue agent".
Asked if the committee would reopen the issue, he said: "The committee will want
to discuss it very urgently. I think we will do so tomorrow morning, and if we
decide that there are further questions to ask, then certainly we would summon
back witnesses and ask those questions."
Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil described the story last night as "one of
the most significant media stories of modern times". "It suggests that rather
than being a one-off journalist or rogue private investigator, it was systemic
throughout the News of the World, and to a lesser extent the Sun," he said.
"Particularly in the News of the World, this was a newsroom out of control.
Murdoch papers paid £1m to
gag phone-hacking victims,