The News of the World ordered it reporters to dig up dirt on the private lives of MPs on a committee investigating the phone hacking scandal as part of a campaign by Rupert Murdoch’s News International to thwart their inquiries, a new book on the saga claims.
Neville Thurlbeck, the former chief reporter on the defunct Sunday tabloid, said that in 2009 an “edict” was delivered from a senior member of editorial staff to find out “every single thing” about the members of the House of Common’s media select committee and that a team of six journalists was established to carry out the operation.
Mr Thurlbeck, who has been arrested in connection with phone hacking, said: “An edict came down… and it was [to] find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use.”
The incendiary claim that the paper at the heart of the voicemail interception revelations that have tainted the Murdoch empire set out to undermine MPs investigating it is contained in Dial M for Murdoch, a book about the scandal by Labour MP Tom Watson, a member of the media committee and key campaigner on phone hacking, and Martin Hickman, an award-winning journalist on The Independent.
At a Westminster launch of the title, Mr Watson said News Corporation was a “toxic institution” and that the alleged campaign intimidation had been successful and was part of a wider attempt to cover up the hacking scandal by the Murdoch empire. He said: “I am sorry to say that this tactic was successful, the committee’s legitimate investigation was undermined and Parliament was, in effect, intimidated.
“News International thought they could do this, that they could get away with it, that no-one could touch them; and they actually did it, and it worked.”
He added: “We conclude that the web of influence which News Corporation spun in Britain, which effectively bent politicians, police and many others in public life to its will, amounted to a shadow state.”
In further allegations, the book claims:
:: The office of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks was being bugged in June 2011, shortly before she resigned following the revelation that the NOTW had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
:: On his release from prison, Glenn Mulcaire, the convicted hacker at the centre of the story, allegedly went to work for a private security consultancy headed by Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner.
:: New International ran an e-mail server at its Wapping headquarters where emails deleted from its main server were stored. The alleged existence of this server was revealed to Mr Watson, who passed this information to Scotland Yard in 2010.
:: Mr Watson was approached by alleged intermediaries from NI with a “deal” in which they would “give him” former NOTW editor and Downing Street press chief Andy Coulson but that Ms Brooks was “sacred”. The same intermediaries are said to have offered the MP a meeting with Rupert Murdoch, who was said to want to “square off these difficulties and put matters right”. Mr Watson says he refused the deal.