Former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has briefed MP Tom Watson about his involvment in the phone-hacking affair and poured further pressure on his former boss James Murdoch.
During questioning of Murdoch today by the Commons Culture Media and Sport select committee, Watson recounted a “confidential” conversation he has recently had with Thurlbeck.
Much of the questioning today centred on how much Murdoch knew about a hacked voicemail message transcript headed up “For Neville” which was cited as the main reason for giving Gordon Taylor a £1m-plus legal settlement in 2008.
Following an exchange in which Murdoch denied being told about the full implications of the ‘For Neville’email during a 2008 meeting with former legal chief Tom Crone, Watson revealed that he had recently held a meeting with Thurlbeck.
‘Although the meeting was supposed to be in confidence I feel there’s a public interest in revealing what he said to me,’Watson said.
Thurlbeck allegedly told Watson that Crone had spoken with him ahead of his 10 June 2008 meeting with Murdoch, which was also attended by then News of the World editor Colin Myler, to discuss what he what he would say to the News International chairman.
Watson quoted Thurlbeck recounting his meeting with Crone: ‘Just before he [Tom Crone] went to see Murdoch to clear the funds and to say we’ve got to settle, he had to speak to me about what the transcript for Neville was all about.
‘I looked at it, [the For Neville email]. I don’t know Tom, I never received it, I don’t know.
“‘Neville, we’ve got a problem because of this, what’s all this about?’… I looked at it. ‘I don’t know Tom, I never received it, I don’t know’.
‘I’m looking at it and saying, ‘clearly it’s hacked, who is it? You better speak to X, somebody must have asked X to do this. I mean, X was asked to do so many of these by people on the newsdesk at the time. He would know. He would have to be pretty dumb not to know.’
‘So Tom comes to me and I give him a full explanation: ‘Tom, this had nothing to do with me’.
‘We discussed things. He said: ‘However, this shows that things had gone through the office. It’s gone through the office. It’s gone through X, through his computer in the office, so clearly News International are culpable and we’re going to have to settle, and I’m going to have to show this to James Murdoch’.
‘The reason I can remember him saying that to me is because I said to him, ‘Please, do you have to show him this? Because he’s going to assume the worse of me, and he’s going to think it’s all to do with me. Is there any way we can get round this?’
‘And he said to me, ‘Nev, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to show him this, because it’s the only reason why we’re going to have to settle. I’ve got to show him this’.
‘I said, ‘Tom, I’m going to lose my job’. He said, ‘Not necessarily, not necessarily.”
When asked if this could be a true account of events Murdoch replied: ‘I have no idea of the conversation Mr Thurlbeck allegedly had with Mr Crone around that.
‘I would be very happy to see that if you can provide it to us at another time.”
He reiterated his claims that neither Myler or Crone had discussed widespread phone-hacking or criminality at the 10 July meeting.
Watson replied: “I pressed him [Thurlbeck] on this, and he said, ‘This is not some vague memory. I was absolutely on a knife-edge. He was going to show this to James Murdoch. There was only going to be one conclusion he’s going to jump to, which is get rid of Thurlbeck.’
“He [Crone] took it to him. The following week I said to him, ‘Did you show him the email?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I did’.
“Now Tom can’t remember if he showed it to him or spoke to him about it, but he said ‘Yes, I did’… He said, ‘Yeah, yes, it’s all right, it’s fine, we’re settling’.”
Murdoch responded: ‘Mr Crone, I think, testified to you that he did not show me the email.
“My understanding is now that the email was subject to some particularly stringent confidentiality agreement with Mr Taylor’s attorneys and the police, or something like that.
‘Mr Myler was part of that confidentiality ring, I believe, but it was not shown to me at all. I’ve only recently seen the email itself.”