New challenge to hacking claims

By James Cusick, Cahal Milmo

Up to a dozen News International executives, including Rebekah Brooks, were told in 2006 that police had evidence more than one News of the World journalist was implicated in the phone-hacking scandal.

New information obtained by Britain's Independent newspaper challenges the timetable stated by Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group, of when and how it became aware of the extent of illegality at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid.

Senior News International figures have repeatedly told Parliament that the company had no significant evidence until 2008 that illegal voicemail interception went beyond jailed NOTW royal editor, Clive Goodman.

The new evidence, which is likely to be central to the investigations into the Murdoch empire, reveals that police told the company two years earlier that they had uncovered strong "circumstantial evidence" implicating other journalists.

A senior police officer held a meeting with Brooks in the weeks after the arrest in August 2006 of Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The officer who met Brooks - a former editor of the NOTW who at the time was editing the Sun - told her that detectives sifting through a vast cache of documents seized from Mulcaire's south London home had uncovered evidence that Goodman was not the only individual on the paper involved in criminal activity.

News International's legal manager, Tom Crone, told executives from the company in mid-2006 of the police meeting with Brooks.

Crone told them the Metropolitan Police investigation had gathered substantial "circumstantial evidence" that other journalists at the NOTW were involved in hacking phones.

It has been reported that Mulcaire was in the habit of writing the name of the NOTW journalist who commissioned him to intercept voicemails on his notes.

Labour MP Tom Watson, a leading campaigner on the hacking scandal, said: "If these allegations are true, then Parliament was not given the full facts of the case when senior executives appeared before MPs.

"We also need to know who it was in the Metropolitan Police that was informing News International of the conduct of a criminal inquiry that was taking place."

The revelation that the upper echelons of the Murdoch empire were told of police evidence in 2006 raises questions about the persistent denials by executives that they knew phone hacking was being widely practised.

The 2006 meeting between Brooks and the Met also raises fresh questions about the closeness of the relationship between News International and Scotland Yard, which was heavily criticised for the failure of its original investigation to uncover the wider practice of hacking inside the tabloid.

In her appearance before the Commons media select committee in July, Brooks said her role involved regular meetings with senior officers, adding that she had been told by the Yard in 2006 that her own voicemails had been targeted by Mulcaire.

It is unclear whether the information implicating named additional NOTW journalists was provided at the same meeting.

- INDEPENDENT

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