Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World's disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.
In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with "the full knowledge and support" of other senior journalists, whom he named.
The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman's allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs' own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously "hard to credit", "self-serving" and "inaccurate and misleading".
Goodman's claims also raise serious questions about Rupert Murdoch's close friend and adviser, Les Hinton, who was sent a copy of the letter but failed to pass it to police and who then led a cast of senior Murdoch personnel in telling parliament that they believed Andy Coulson knew nothing about the interception of the voicemail of public figures and that Goodman was the only journalist involved.
The letters from Goodman and from the leading London law firm Harbottle and Lewis are among a cache of paperwork published by the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee. One committee member, the Labour MP Tom Watson, said Goodman's letter was "absolutely devastating". He said: "Clive Goodman's letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far. It completely removes News International's defence. This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime."
Goodman's letter is dated 2 March 2007, soon after he was released from a four-month prison sentence. It is addressed to News International's director of human resources, Daniel Cloke, and registers his appeal against the decision of the company's then chairman, Les Hinton, to sack him for gross misconduct after he admitted intercepting the voicemail of three members of the royal household. Goodman lists five grounds for his appeal....read more