Neville Thurlbeck

Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter at News of the World tells MPs NI executives knew of 'paralysing' information

Credit: Yui Mok/PA
Former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has told MPs of "a pattern of News of the World executives withholding information from News International executives" as well as the culture, media and sport select committee.

In a letter from Thurlbeck to John Whittingdale, chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, he claims Tom Crone, former legal manager at the News of the World, and Colin Myler, former editor of the title, knew of evidence of phone-hacking that went beyond being carried out by a "rogue reporter" as they claimed at the time.

Thurlbeck claims Myler and Crone were so fearful of the "paralysing" information being exposed to NI executives James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks that "they couldn’t face hearing the information" which would have "catastrophic consequences" for the newspaper.

The former chief reporter, who was arrested in April by police investigating phone hacking, writes in the letter, one of several made public by the committee late last night, that Crone and Myler knew of a phone call Thurlbeck had taped proving "a news desk executive" knew that Gordon Taylor's voicemail had been intercepted. He states that they did not tell the committee about the evidence when they appeared two days after it was taped, on 21 July 2009.

The letter from Thurlbeck, dated 1 December 2011, states that in July 2009 the exposure of the "transcript for Neville" email by the Guardian resulted in his name becoming "publicly linked to the Gordon Taylor privacy settlement and in a highly damaging way, to the interception of his voicemails".

He reports that Myler was about to ask him to resign and offer a "generous settlement" when Thurbeck "provided them with a substantial amount of evidence which satisfied them that I was not the guilty party" and referred them to a news list from the week in 2005 when the Taylor voicemail hacking took place.

"They found that the news desk executive who had denied any knowledge of the Gordon Taylor story, had in fact been billing it as the main story of the week on his news list. And he had been doing so for an entire week in 2005 in front of the then editor Andy Coulson.

"I also provided Mr Myler and Mr Crone with email correspondence between myself and the news desk executive in which we discussed the Taylor story extensively."

Thurlbeck states he then "tracked down Ross Hall in Peru, the reporter who had made the transcript in the 'transcript for Neville' email to try to discover who had handed him the tapes of the hacked voicemails and ordered him to transcribe them".

"I taped the call and it exonerated me and incriminated the executive."

He writes that he called Crone, who he described as being "unpleasant and extremely angry" to tell him he had proof that he was innocent.

"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'."

Crone did not refer to the tape when he appeared before the committee on 21 July 2009.

"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.

"This is when it appears to me that Mr Myler and Mr Crone formulated their policy of leaving me to dangle as a suspect for the next two years. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a more advantageous corporate strategy to have me as a suspect than one of their top executives as a convict.

"They were in possession of all this knowledge and they failed to disclose it to the committee".

Thurlbeck's letter also reports he had tried to discuss the matter with Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News international, on three occasions.

"During December 2010 and January 2011, I was provided, on a highly confidential basis, with information about the industrial scale of hacking at the News of the
World.

"On two occasions, I made an appointment to see Bill Akass, the managing editor. During these meetings, I informed him that I had information which had the
potential for 'catastrophic consequences' for the newspaper".

He states he was "denied access" to Brooks by Akass.

"In April 2011, I obtained further evidence of my innocence in the Gordon Taylor affair in a taped call to another executive. The tape also incriminated the executive who had been admonished earlier for lying to Mr Myler and Mr Crone. I offered the tape to Mr Akass. He seemed to panic and refused to even take possession of it – even to simply hand it to the police.

"I made a further request for Rebekah Brooks to be informed of these developments. Again, this was denied by Mr Akass."

He goes on to speak about his personal relationships with Crone and Myler.

"It grieves me because I have known and respected Tom Crone for 20 years. I like him enormously. Colin Myler is also one of the most fair minded men I have worked for. But their strategy – which I challenged on numerous occasions - was ill-conceived and had become irrevocably defined by the suppression of facts. And it caused me two and a half years of severe criticism in the press and in parliament, my arrest, the loss of my job and contributed to the closure of the paper."

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