News International hits back at claims 28 journos involved

By James Cusick

News International went on the attack yesterday at the Leveson Inquiry, questioning claims that up to 28 News of the World journalists were implicated in lawbreaking and denying that the practice had spread to the Sun.

Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group challenged new evidence presented by Scotland Yard and questioned the claim the Sun had been involved in phone hacking.

Despite issuing an "unreserved apology" to victims whose phones were hacked by the NOTW, the company's lawyer claimed new figures given to the inquiry by the Metropolitan Police "did not add up".

News International's latest position appears to be that only a small number of rogues were responsible.

On the opening day at the Royal Courts of Justice, Robert Jay, QC, counsel for the inquiry, said examinations of the notebooks belonging to Glenn Mulcaire, the jailed private eye regularly commissioned by the NOTW, pointed to 28 journalists at the newspaper group, in addition to its jailed royal editor Clive Goodman, being involved.

However, the counsel for News International, Rhodri Davies, QC, told the inquiry on day two that he wanted the figure of 28 "rechecked" and said "it certainly does not add up".

The inquiry has been told that four journalists, A, B, C and D, accounted for 2143 of the commissions noted by Mulcaire. With Mulcaire commissioned 2266 times, there was a difference of 123 between the two figures.

A further 21 names in Mulcaire's books could not be properly read.

Davies said there had been "some surprise on our side" that the rest of the connections made to Mulcaire meant 28 other News International journalists were being connected to the criminal action of phone hacking.

The challenge to the evidence presented by specialist detectives from Operation Weeting, is the first split in the array of lawyers representing media companies, the police and victims of phone hacking.

Davies repeated previous apologies issued by News International and stated that phone hacking was "wrong, it was shameful; it should never have happened". He immediately followed with an open confession that the "rogue reporter" notion had been dismissed.

Davies said he wanted discussions with the inquiry's counsel to challenge the assumption the Sun was engaged in criminal activities.

Actor Jude Law has started legal action against the Sun, including allegations that the paper hacked into his personal data.

Davies also challenged new evidence of the timeframe for the NOTW's "dark arts" activities.

On day one it was suggested that despite the jailing of Mulcaire and Goodman in 2007, phone hacking may have continued until 2009.

Davies said that if it continued at all, its scale was nothing like the old regime.

"I am not going to give any guarantees there was no phone hacking by or on behalf of NOTW after 2007. Nonetheless, it does look as though lessons were learned when Mr Goodman and Mr Mulcaire went to jail. If phone hacking continued, it was not, as Mr Jay suggested, the 'thriving cottage industry' that existed before."

- Independent

- NZ Herald

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