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'News of the World' accused of 'withholding evidence' in hacking probe

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News Of The World offices

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Former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has supplied written evidence to parliament accusing the newspaper of "withholding information" about the extent of phone hacking at the title.

In a letter published yesterday by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, Thurlbeck claimed former News of the World editor Colin Myler and the paper's legal chief Tom Crone had left him "to dangle as a suspect for the next two years" after he provided evidence that hacking went beyond one "rogue reporter".

In a letter to committee chairman, John Whittingdale MP, Thurlbeck wrote: "In my intimate experience of the fall-out from the phone hacking scandal, there has been a pattern of News of the World executives withholding information from News International executives and to the [culture committee]."

Thurlbeck's name first appeared in connection with phone hacking allegations in July 2009 over a settlement case with Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor.

Taylor was paid £425,000 in damages plus his legal costs after he uncovered an email containing transcripts of messages hacked from his mobile phone.

The email, bearing the subject "Transcript for Neville", has been viewed as a key piece of evidence because it potentially debunks the News of the World's claim that hacking was only carried out by royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 alongside private detective Glenn Mulcaire.

In the letter, Thurlbeck claimed that he had tracked down the News of the World journalist who allegedly made the transcript of the Taylor voicemail message, and taped a phone conversation with him identifying who ordered the hacking. Thurlbeck said this evidence exonerated him of blame for the crime.

"I immediately called Mr Crone to tell him this as it was final proof to News International, the police and parliament, that I had not hacked Gordon Taylor's phone. Up to this point, I thought Mr Myler and Mr Crone were on a genuine mission to find the proof that their chief reporter was innocent," said Thurlbeck.

Police investigate News of the World journalists over alleged phone hacking
"He was unpleasant and extremely angry. He told me, 'I have to go in front of the committee in a few days' time and defend everybody. No, I don't want the bloody tape'. It was at this point when I realised there was no such mission to find the proof of my innocence.

"This was because the only proof available would lead to the sacking and possible prosecution of another top executive. This would fatally damage the 'rogue reporter' defence which was being advanced at the time."

Thurlbeck accused the paper of a "backdrop of persistent non-disclosure", and said that he cannot believe Myler and Crone had informed News International chairman James Murdoch that hacking went beyond a single reporter.

Murdoch has consistently denied seeing the 'for Neville' email before his signed off the Taylor payment.

> James Murdoch rejects News International 'mafia' claims
> Glenn Mulcaire arrested on fresh phone hacking charges

"It is inconceivable to me that upon deciding to pay record damages for invasion of privacy based upon telephone hacking that he would not have discussed the implications for the company and shareholders with other members of the board, who would in turn have advised holding an internal inquiry. They didn't," Thurlbeck wrote.

Thurlbeck was arrested and bailed in April this year for alleged interception of voicemail messages, and he was sacked by News International in the summer. He has consistently denied hacking into phones.

Yesterday, police probing criminality at the News of the World confirmed that they were investigating whether details from the medical records of a prominent celebrity were illegally obtained by the paper.

The BBC said that the unnamed celebrity had contacted police after hearing claims the paper, shut down in July at the height of the hacking scandal, had obtained a doctor's report.

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