Ex-News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has accused phone-hacking campaigner and Labour MP Tom Watson of publishing the details of an off-the-record conversation in his new book.
In ‘Dial M for Murdoch’, written with journalist Martin Hickman, Thurlbeck was quoted as telling Watson that a team of reporters at the Sunday tabloid was charged with investigating the private lives of members of the Commons culture committee when it was investigating phone-hacking allegations at the paper in 2009.
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‘There was an edict that came down from the editor and it was ‘find out every single thing you can about every single member,” Thurlbeck was quoted as saying. ‘Who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use. Each reporter was given two members and there were six reporters.”
Following the book’s release yesterday Thurlbeck said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’that the Labour MP had ‘chosen to make public one of our private conversations which took place in the run up to me providing the CMS Committee with my statement”.
‘At no time did he inform me of his intention to do so,’he added. ‘For clarification, I made it clear to him that I had no evidence to support the belief that the request originated from the editor’s office.
‘In fact, it was implied that the surveillance plan originated from outside of the newspaper and elsewhere in News International. I have no desire or intention of revealing the identity of any of the personnel instructing or being instructed to carry out the surveillance.
‘All the staff were extremely reluctant to carry out the surveillance. Though from a point of view of logistics and ethics, they unanimously introduced a large degree of procrastination until executives suddenly called a halt to the plan about ten days later.”
Watson also quoted the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price saying: ‘I was told by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I knew was in direct contact with executives at News International, that if we went for her, they would go for us – effectively they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish [us].’
Watson said the alleged intimidation was successful at first and contributed to the decision not to summon News International chief executive Renekah Brooks to give evidence in 2010.
‘I am sorry to say that this tactic was successful, the committee’s legitimate investigation was undermined and parliament was, in effect, intimidated,’ he said
‘News International thought it could do this, that they would get away with it, that no one could touch them, and they actually did it, and it worked.’
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