LONDON - A British parliamentary committee on Tuesday published a sequence of emails which raised questions about the story News Corp's James Murdoch told to legislators about what he knew about phone hacking allegations involving the now-defunct News of the World and when he knew it.
In the email sequence, dated Saturday, June 7, 2008, James Murdoch was advised by Colin Myler, then News of the World editor, that the paper's legal position regarding a legal threat from professional soccer union executive Gordon Taylor was "as bad as we feared."
Attached to this message was an email exchange between Myler and Tom Crone, the News of the World's principal in-house lawyer, in which Crone mentioned a "nightmare scenario."
Crone explained that this scenario related to the fact that "several voicemails" on an email addressed to News of the World reporter Ross Hindley were "taken from" a phone used by Joanne Armstrong, a lawyer for the Professional Footballers Association union, which Taylor led.
The Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday that James Murdoch had written to British members of parliament, saying he had received the email chain over a weekend which was partly why he "did not review the full email chain at the time or afterwards."
The email sent to Hindley, which, in a reference to the News of the World's chief reporter, was headed "For Neville", is regarded by investigators and lawyers as one of the first pieces of evidence to reach the public domain demonstrating that phone hacking was a practice which extended beyond a single "rogue" journalist.
Executives of News International, the British newspaper publisher headed by James Murdoch at the time of the email exchange, initially claimed in public statements and testimony to parliament that phone hacking was limited to Clive Goodman, a News of the World journalist who was jailed in 2007 for hacking into the voice mails of aides to members of Britain's Royal Family.
In parliamentary testimony earlier this year, James Murdoch maintained that while he was aware of the existence of some kind of email, he was not informed in 2008 that it constituted possible evidence of widespread phone hacking by News of the World journalists other than Goodman.
James Murdoch's handling of the phone hacking crisis has raised questions about his status as presumptive heir to his father, News Corp founder and chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Chris Bryant, a member of parliament for Britain's Labour Party who was a target of phone hacking, told Reuters on Tuesday that at a minimum, the email sequence newly published by the committee "says to me that James Murdoch is a remarkably slipshod manager .... He's been slipshod and News International have been slippery."
In a letter also made public by the parliamentary committee on Tuesday, James Murdoch told the panel "I was not aware of evidence that either pointed to widespread wrongdoing or indicated that further investigation was necessary." Nonetheless, he said he wished to "apologize" that this material had "only now come to light" in a late stage of the Parliamentary inquiry.
Tom Watson, another Labour Party member of parliament and a leading member of the Media Select Committee, was skeptical, the Independent reported, saying, "How can the company have just found this important email trail?"
The Culture, Media and Sport committee is scheduled to publish a report on its phone hacking investigation sometime in the next few months.
A spokesperson for News International said the company had no comment beyond the statements made by James Murdoch in his latest letter to the Parliamentary committee.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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