After former Murdoch servants Colin Myler and Tom Crone were found to have been in contempt of Parliament last week, Labour MP Paul Farrelly gave a hint that there may be unfinished business, that past investigations and interrogations may be revisited. His remarks are on record, and they bear repetition.
Here is what he has said: “In one sense, out final 2012 report was incomplete. On advice from clerks of the House and Speaker’s Counsel, as throughout our report, we made no findings regarding ex-editor Andy Coulson, nor then NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks, owing to criminal proceedings … In considering this report further, I will certainly want to go back over their evidence, and also disclosures made during the successful civil claims made by phone hacking victims”.
Farrelly might find the documentation that was released after the conclusion of the investigation that found so adversely upon Myler and Crone, especially when it comes to Brooks and Coulson, useful. Because that would give him, and other MPs of like mind, not just a good starting point, but also an intimation of just how squeaky clean the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Ms Brooks really is.
As with the examination of Neil Wallis’ protestations of innocence yesterday, we look primarily at the statement made by Colin Myler to Police in late 2011, along with the note taken by his deputy Jane Johnson in July 2009, both of which reference the admission of Neville “stylish masturbator” Thurlbeck that he had hacked phones, and specifically that of former Home Secretary David Blunkett back in 2004.
Jane Johnson’s Note And The Date Context
The note taken by Ms Johnson is timed and dated 1611 hours on the 11th of July 2009. It was a Saturday; for staff on Sunday titles such as the Screws, being in the office at that time of a weekend is normal behaviour. Thurlbeck had made his admission to Myler and Crone earlier that afternoon; Crone then had this note taken. Here are the relevant passages.
“Neville said on this occasion he hadn’t worked with [Glenn] Mulcaire … He said he had accessed [voicemails] himself … Neville said he played the tapes in Andy’s office with Andy Coulson, Neil Wallis and Stuart [Kuttner] present … He was told to work from home, make no more tapes of tapes, for it all to be kept on transcript … He was told to destroy his computer and laptop … So he destroyed his home computer and his laptop”.
There was more. ““Asked what happened to the tapes he thought he’d given them to Tom … Tom said I didn’t get them, but they might have been sealed up and put in the legal safe”. This date is significant, as it was the first issue of the Screws following the first article on phone hacking by Nick Davies in the Guardian, which had been published just two days previously.
Myler later arranged a meeting with Rebekah Brooks to discuss what Thurlbeck had told him and Crone. But at the same time, moves were being made to have Davies appear before the DCMS Select Committee to face questioning on the Guardian revelations.
Nick Davies Appears At The DCMS Select Committee
On the Tuesday following the Guardian’s revelations - and that meeting at the Screws - Nick Davies appeared before the DCMS Select Committee. He was - unexpectedly - accompanied by editor Alan Rusbridger. Why the latter appeared was partly explained later: Rusbridger was concerned that Davies might, shall we say, get ahead of himself, and wanted to let him know if he was saying something he should not have.
As a result, for much of the hearing, Rusbridger had his right hand hovering about Davies’ left knee, ready to administer a squeeze of said knee if Davies went off-piste. He need not have been concerned.
Davies revealed to the gathering that he estimated there were thousands of individuals who had had their phones hacked, mainly by Private Investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was working more or less full time for the Screws at the time he and Clive Goodman, the Screws’ royal reporter, had got caught back in 2006.
Davies’ material incriminated Thurlbeck - the infamous “for Neville” document - but he had not at that point figured that Thurlbeck was doing a little hacking of his own. Myler and Crone now knew hacking went beyond Mulcaire. Nevertheless, Davies produced evidence indicating 32 individuals had been targeted, throwing into serious doubt the suggestions from the Metropolitan Police that the overall number was rather more trivial.
The Guardian’s excellent write-up of proceedings also touches on the problem for Tory MPs on the Committee - including its chairman John Whittingdale - that what they were hearing about had happened under the editorship of Andy Coulson, who by this time was David Cameron’s spin chief. By the time Myler gave his statement to Police in late 2011, Coulson had been taken into Downing Street, but had resigned the previous January.
Myler’s Meetings With Ms Brooks
To recap, this is what Myler’s statement said about his first approach to Ms Brooks: “I arranged a meeting with Mrs BROOKS on the next day Mrs BROOKS, Mr CRONE and I were in the office, which I believe was the following Tuesday … We met in a room on the Executive Floor. I recounted the comments made by Mr THURLBECK. She appeared shocked and agitated about what I was telling her. I believe she said this is ‘one question too many, six months too late’ and ‘I will not let this company go into meltdown”.
So while Nick Davies and Alan Rusbridger were revealing what they knew to the DCMS Select Committee, Myler and Crone were giving Rebekah the bad news. And there was a second meeting that day - where Crone was not involved.
“Later that same day, Mrs BROOKS phoned me and asked me to meet her outside the building. We met a short time after that and Mrs BROOKS expressed her views about how awful the situation was. I recall that she said something along the lines of ‘We’ve got to protect Andy’. I believe that she was referring to Mr COULSON. I told her that I could understand the significance of what she had said but that if I were asked about my knowledge, I would not lie. She went away from the meeting saying that she would decide what should be done”. No suggestion she did not know about hacking there.
Moreover, what comes later in Myler’s statement is yet more concerning, as despite Thurlbeck’s admission to Crone and Myler, the Screws continued to employ him.
“Following my discussions with Mrs BROOKS, my expectation was that Mr THURLBECK would be dismissed. I, myself, made two attempts to remove him during 2010, but for a variety of reasons neither attempt was successful … After I had made clear to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee the significance of the ‘For Neville’ email in July 2009, Mr THURLBECK’s position became increasingly untenable”.
Myler also makes reference to the “For Neville” document already referenced by Nick Davies. He also infers that senior management was not exactly busting a gut to have Thurlbeck removed - despite his briefing Rebekah Brooks. There is more.
“Together with the managing editor, Bill AKASS, I therefore insisted that financial provision be made in the budget to dismiss Mr THURLBECK … The details of the financial provision and when the provision was made will be recorded in the Newspaper’s financial records. Mr THURLBECK was eventually dismissed in September 2011”.
The Inevitably Messy Aftermath
By then, it was all rather academic: the Screws had been closed in July 2011, and the same month, Coulson, Wallis, Goodman and Ms Brooks were all arrested.
Rebekah Brooks was found Not Guilty at the 2014 Hacking Trial. As with Neil Wallis’ later trial, the jury could only consider the evidence that was put before them - and much of that suggesting she knew hacking had been going on was discredited during her trial.
But Myler’s statement is quite clear: he and Crone told her it was going on, and that it went beyond one hacker. The response he recalls is consistent with the heightened tension within the Murdoch empire at the time the hacking revelations were beginning to gain traction, as well as a determination to protect Coulson, who was in 2009 set to be taken into Downing Street as part of Cameron’s team, if he won the looming election.
Coulson got into Downing Street; the Murdoch empire got its man into the heart of Government. We should not lose sight of that.
Ms Brooks got off. But the statement quoted in this post was not made available to the trial jury. As with Wallis, that’s something I’ll just leave there for readers to decide.