A bitter internal wrangle has broken out at News International over who saw emails retrieved by the company four years ago which suggest that News of the World journalists approved payments to police.
The emails were recovered during a 2007 internal investigation into claims that phone hacking was widespread at the paper.
One of the executives involved in the inquiry, the former head of legal, Jon Chapman – who left the company last week – is understood to be considering legal action against the Times after the paper linked his departure to the investigation.
Chapman, who is on gardening leave, could not be reached for comment.
Colin Myler, the NoW’s editor at the time, who also took part in the 2007 investigation, is expected to say the content of those emails, which were recovered by the company’s then director of human resources, Daniel Cloke, were never shared with him.
Myler told the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee in July 2009: “I conducted this inquiry with Daniel Cloke, our director of human resources. Over 2,500 emails were accessed because we were exploring whether or not there was any other evidence to suggest essentially what you are hinting at. No evidence was found.”
During the course of the internal investigation, Chapman asked the law firm Harbottle & Lewis to review the emails that the company had recovered. However, the firm only received 300 of the 2,500 emails examined internally.
Myler also told the select committee: “No evidence or information emerged to suggest that others at the News of the World knew of these activities or were complicit in them.”
But it is now claimed Myler accepted an assurance that the emails contained no “smoking gun” without checking the contents of the emails himself.
News International insiders said Tom Crone, the News of the World’s lawyer, claims he was not told about the existence of the emails until July 2009, a few days before he was due to appear before the same committee to give evidence about the extent of phone hacking at the title. Crone could not be contacted for comment last night.
Les Hinton, the long-serving Murdoch executive who also took part in the investigation, has not commented on the emails. Hinton was executive chairman of News International when the inquiry was conducted and twice told the culture committee that Goodman was the only journalist who hacked into phones.
He was asked in March 2007 by its chair John Whittingdale MP whether he “carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry, and you are absolutely convinced that Clive Goodman was the only person who knew what was going on?” Hinton replied: “Yes, we have and I believe he was the only person, but that investigation, under the new editor, continues.”
In 2009 he told the culture committee: “There was never any evidence delivered to me suggesting that the conduct of Clive Goodman spread beyond him.”
Hinton left News International in December 2007, when Murdoch made him chief executive of the Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) publisher Dow Jones.
The internal investigation was carried out after Clive Goodman, the former royal editor at the paper who was jailed for targeting members of the royal household, claimed other journalists and executives at the paper knew hacking was widespread. It concluded that Goodman had acted as a “rogue reporter”.
Lawrence Abramson, a partner at Harbottle & Lewis, confirmed the emails contained no evidence that hacking went beyond Goodman.
Abramson, who is now at London law firm Fladgate, said in a statement last night: “Professional duty of confidentiality prevents me from commenting on this.”
Some of the emails were recovered last month by the company’s general manager, Will Lewis, from Harbottle & Lewis following a request from Scotland Yard. News International handed them to the Met last week.
The Met said yesterday those emails contain evidence of “alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers”.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.