Police investigating the News of the World phone hacking scandal have nabbed another suspect, with the arrest of the paper’s former top lawyer. Tom Crone was collared at his home in southwest London at 6.45 yesterday morning and spent the day at a nearby police station “helping police with their inquiries”.
Scotland Yard refused to confirm the identity of the 60-year-old, whom the BBC and other media outlets quickly identified as Crone, but said he had been arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to intercept communications”, for which read phone hacking.
If Crone were to be charged with involvement in hacking it would be something of a surprise, in that he has hitherto been cast in the role of cleaner: the man who orchestrated the cover-up that everybody agrees took place.
It was Crone, after all, who handled the police investigation back in 2006 when the NotW’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman was arrested, along with the paper’s pet private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. And it was Crone who was told by police way back then (via Rebekah Brooks) that they had identified $1 million in payments and more than 100 hacking victims, in sport, showbiz and politics.
Shortly afterwards, it was Crone — among others — who told the House of Commons in early 2007 (and again in 2009) that hacking at the NotW had been confined to one rogue reporter.
Since then, the Murdochs’ former legal boss has been regularly accused of lying. Last November, for example, James told the House of Commons committee that Crone had misled parliament with his damning claim that he had briefed Murdoch back in May 2008 on the extent of hacking at the paper.
Six months later, the same House of Commons committee agreed Crone had not told the truth, in that he had “deliberately avoided disclosing crucial information … and, when asked to do so, answered questions falsely”.
By that stage, Rupert Murdoch (whom the committee had accused of “wilful blindness” because he had failed to ask enough questions about the extent of the hacking) had also fingered Crone as the chief villain, telling the media that a “clever lawyer and drinking pal of the journalists” had kept senior executives (like himself) in the dark by persuading everyone at the paper to keep their mouths shut.
Crone’s response to this accusation was that it was ”a shameful lie”. And: “The same applies to his [Rupert Murdoch’s] assertions that I misinformed senior executives about what was going on and that I forbade people from reporting to Rebekah Brooks or to James Murdoch.”
Referring to ex-NotW editor Colin Myler (who had also assured the House of Commons that James Murdoch had been fully briefed on the extent of hacking), Crone added: “It is perhaps no coincidence that the two people he has identified in relation to his cover-up allegations are the same two people who pointed out that his son’s evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee last year was inaccurate.”
With accusations from both sides that Crone played a key role in covering up the hacking scandal — either for the Murdochs or from them — it would have been no great surprise had he been arrested yesterday for perverting the course of justice, rather than for hacking into voicemails or authorising others to do so. But we’ll have to wait and see whether he’s eventually charged with that crime, or indeed with anything else.
It’s suggested the police moved on him after receiving new information from the Management and Standards committee set up by News Corporation to clean up their British papers. Whether that’s true or not, charges against Crone would surely be bad news for the Murdochs. The lawyer has already made it clear he’s not prepared to carry the can for anybody, so he would almost certainly try to blame his superiors if he stepped into the witness box.
Should that happen, Rupert’s loyal lieutenant, Les Hinton, who has now resigned from News, would be first in the firing line. Next would be Brooks, who already faces two sets of criminal charges relating to hacking and perverting the course of justice (and is back in court on Monday).
After that, there are only two people left to aim at: James Murdoch, and Rupert himself.