James Murdoch has been accused of giving incorrect information to the parliamentary select committee hearing on phone hacking about a six-figure out-of-court settlement News International made with footballers’ union boss Gordon Taylor. In a brief but potentially highly damaging broadside, two former News of the World senior executives claimed the evidence he gave in relation to an out-of-court settlement to Taylor was “mistaken”.
Colin Myler, editor of the paper until it was closed two weeks ago, and Tom Crone, the paper’s former head of legal affairs who left News International last week, issued a two-paragraph statement late on Thursday challenging Murdoch’s version of events in 2008.
In their statement, Myler and Crone said: “Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday’s culture, media, select committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch’s recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.
“In fact, we did inform him of the ‘for Neville’ email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor’s lawyers.”
Murdoch, the News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) deputy chief operating officer, is standing by his version of events, fuelling the prospect of another war of words over what exactly went on within News International when evidence of alleged widespread phone-hacking came to light. News International’s parent company, News Corporation, said: “James Murdoch stands by his testimony to the select committee.”
The statement came as something of a bombshell to the culture, sport and media select committee, which is now expected to seek an explanation from Murdoch.
Committee chairman John Whittingdale told the Guardian: “We as a committee regarded the ‘for Neville’ email as one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry. We will be asking James Murdoch to respond and ask him to clarify.”
Earlier month, Murdoch acknowledged he was wrong to settle the Taylor suit, saying he did not “have a complete picture of the case” at the time.
He repeated this line on Tuesday before the culture select committee, when he was asked by Labour MP Tom Watson: “When you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?”
To this James Murdoch answered: “No, I was not aware of that at the time.”
The “for Neville” email refers to an alleged News of the World reporter’s email to the private investigator at the centre of the phone-hacking debacle. The reporter was sending a transcript of Taylor’s voicemails and marked the email “for Neville”, believed to be the News of the World’s former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck.
The existence of the email was uncovered by the Guardian in 2009 and represented a challenge to News International’s then defence that the phone hacking was the work of one “rogue reporter”, former royal reporter Clive Goodman.
It is also thought to have contributed to the decision by News International to sign off on a £700,000 settlement with Taylor, after he threatened to sue the newspaper for breach of privacy.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.