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News of the World hacking more widespread, says lawyer

By
News Of The World

© PA Images / Ian Nicholson

A lawyer who advised News International has said that the newspaper publisher was told in 2008 that there were three journalists other than Clive Goodman involved in phone hacking.

Speaking today to the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, Farrer and Co solicitor Julian Pike admitted that he had "not done very much" to debunk the company's claim that hacking was down to just one "rogue reporter". However, he denied being "party to any cover-up".

Former News of the World royal reporter Goodman was jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones belonging to royal aides. At the time, News International claimed that the practice was not more widely used at the newspaper.

MPs on the culture committee are keen to clear up the circumstances behind a settlement agreed with phone hacking victim Gordon Taylor, the boss of the Professional Footballer's Association, in April 2008.

Pike acted for News International in the case, which is thought to have occurred after Taylor's legal team uncovered an email sent by a News of the World journalist containing a transcript of messages left on Taylor's phone.

The message was marked "for Neville", and is understood to have been intended for the News of the World's chief reporter Neville Thurllbeck, suggesting that phone hacking practices extended well beyond just Goodman at the Sunday tabloid.

Taylor is understood to have settled his case with the News of the World out of court with a £425,000 payout plus costs.

Pike told the committee today that the "for Neville" message was a "critical piece of evidence" relating to phone hacking.

"It was quite clear having seen the For Neville email... that there was involvement of News of the World journalists other than Goodman," said Pike.

He also said that at the time of Taylor's case, the advice given to News International was that there were "three journalists other than Goodman involved in phone hacking".

"They were also advised by counsel and ourselves that there was a powerful case to support [the existence of] a culture of illegal accessing of information to get stories," he added.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said in September that he wanted to hear from Pike before recalling News International chairman James Murdoch to give more evidence.

This followed Murdoch's claim to the MPs in July that he was unaware of the "for Neville" email when he signed off the Taylor payment being contradicted by two executives at the paper.

The committee also today heard from Mark Lewis, the solicitor representing various phone hacking victims, including the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Lewis, who represented Taylor in the case, said the settlement paid to him was higher than expected for a privacy case in which no story had actually been published.

The solicitor expressed his belief that the settlement was a "hush up" aimed at encouraging Taylor not to make any further allegations or go public with the story.

"They didn't want it to get out," he said. "They paid my costs in full. They didn't knock a penny off - that's unheard of in litigation."

Lewis, who believes his own phone was hacked as recently as this year, added: "The News of the World's stance on all this has moved from one rogue reporter... to trying to present this as something that is about people who have no right to any sympathy - politicians, celebrities, sports people.

"It was only the Milly Dowler case that exposed everything. The lie that was being told by News of the World, but also all the other newspapers. That was really the scandal. It was a cover-up by all the newspapers."

Next Monday, Les Hinton - the former right-hand man to Rupert Murdoch - is to give evidence to MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee for the third time via video link.

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