James Murdoch may again have to front the UK inquiry into phone hacking, after former News of the World executives disputed his previous parliamentary evidence.

When Murdoch last appeared before the parliamentary inquiry in July, he denied he had knowledge of the infamous “For Neville” email that proved more than one “rogue reporter” was involved with the hacking scandal before agreeing to the payout to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association.

Two former News of the World executives, former legal manager Tom Crone and ex-editor Colin Myler yesterday faced the UK MP committee investigating the phone hacking claims and refuted Murdoch’s claims. The allegations by Crone and Myler first hit the media in late July, when the pair released a statement to The Guardian just after Murdoch first gave evidence.

The pair was questioned yesterday for two hours by the committee. Crone said he was “certain” he had told Murdoch about the document, as it had been crucial in News International’s decision to pay out £700,000 to Taylor. The email, sent to former chief NotW reporter Neville Thurlbeck, is regarded as a critical piece of evidence by authorities with an apparent transcript of hacked messages from Taylor’s voice mail.

“[The email] was clear evidence that phone hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman,” Crone told MPs. It was the reason we had to settle the case and in order to settle the case we had to explain the case to Mr Murdoch and get his authority to settle, so clearly it was discussed.” Murdoch is now expected to be recalled to face the committee.

Murdoch quickly fired back with a response, declaring:

“My recollection of the meeting regarding the Gordon Taylor settlement is absolutely clear and consistent. I stand by my testimony, which is an accurate account of events. I was told by Mr Crone and Mr Myler when we met, in that short meeting, that the civil litigation related to the interception of Mr Taylor’s voicemails to which Mulcaire had pleaded guilty the previous year.

“I was informed, for the first time, that there was evidence that Mulcaire had carried out this interception on behalf of the News of the World. It was for this reason alone that Mr Crone and Mr Myler recommended settlement. It was in this context that the evidence was discussed. They did not show me the email, nor did they refer to Neville Thurlbeck.

“Neither Mr Myler nor Mr Crone told me that wrongdoing extended beyond Mr Goodman or Mr Mulcaire. As I said in my testimony, there was nothing discussed in the meeting that led me to believe that a further investigation was necessary.

Both Crone and Myler came out fighting in defence of many of the committee’s allegations, writes Lisa O’Carrell in The Guardian:

“Crone, in particular, was having no truck with any MP who dared suggest he was negligent in his former duties as the News of the World’s legal manager, or that he had made any attempt to cover up industrial-scale phone hacking at the paper.

“At several points, his facial expression and tone of voice suggested exasperation with what he clearly thought was the ignorance of the culture, media and sport select committee. Did they not know that hiring private investigators was commonplace? Were they not aware that divorce cases up and down the land frequently relied on their activities? He robustly defended himself against every allegation they made, making it difficult for any of the MPs on the committee to land a punch, though Tom Watson and the equally tenacious Louise Mensch came close.”

Crone was not enjoying the pressure, writes Roy Greenslade in The Guardian:

“Under tight and tough questioning, Crone began to look flustered and, on occasion, there were flushes of anger, though he remained polite.

“I’ve known him for the best part of 25 years, maybe longer, and I have never seen him so ill at ease. He has always been the master of his brief, exhibiting supreme self-confidence in his undoubted legal capabilities.”

These men do not wish to hang themselves and their former colleagues out to dry, instead there was a lot of “not that I can recall, no” being said in parliament, writes Cahal Milmo in The Independent. That’s because “…there is another, parallel battle going on here which is about the reputation of Murdoch lieutenants who are unlikely to face questions under police caution, but nonetheless find their deeds under close scrutiny and, crucially, the standing of the media mogul’s global empire and that of his son, James”, says Milmo.

Despite their explosive claims in July, Crone and Myler didn’t slam Murdoch as much as MPs had wished. “The MPs did their damnedest to pin the pair down on what exactly had happened in the meeting, but the devastating clarity hinted at by their statement in July turned out to be frustratingly elusive,” notes Esther Addley in The Guardian.

Her colleague Dan Sabbagh agreed. “Colin Myler and Tom Crone may have come to the select committee with pistols loaded, but they did not fire the fatal shot at James Murdoch,” writes Sabbagh. “Murdoch junior will have almost certainly have to face MPs again — and explain why his evidence about the all-important “for Neville” email differs from his former employees. But he is also beginning to narrow the discrepancies between his and their evidence.”

Late last week, Murdoch declined the yearly CEO bonus offered to him by the company “in light of the current controversy surrounding News of the World“.

On the same day, the inquiry into media practices and ethics began with David Cameron admitting to the committee that relationships between politicians and media outlets needed “resetting”. “I think there is a need for better and more appropriate media regulation, partly because of the abuses that have taken place,” Cameron told the House of Commons liaison committee.

But Cameron also warned MPs not to revel too much in NotW‘s phone hacking scandal as payback for the damaging MP expenses scandal. “If this was to be seen in any way a revenge for expenses, that would be a disaster for parliament,” said Cameron. “The expenses scandal was just that — a scandal — and we must not be seen in any way gleeful in leaping on this opportunity to over-regulate the media. There is a danger of the pendulum swinging too far the other way.”

Lord Justice Leveson, who is heading the committee into media ethics, also heard applications yesterday from a variety of high-profile phone hacking victims and others who wanted to be involved in the investigation. These included the parents of missing child Madeleine McCann, former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott, lawyers representing Sienna Miller, Hugh Grant and Jude Law and even former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey