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Ex-Murdoch lawyer defends newspapers surveillance

LONDON — A former top lawyer for Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers insisted Wednesday that he told the mogul’s son there was evidence of widespread phone hacking at the now defunct News of The World tabloid.

Tom Crone questioned claims made by James Murdoch — chairman of News International, the British arm of his father’s media empire — that he had not been informed about an email indicating that hacking was rife.

For many months, News International insisted the illegal accessing of the cell phone voice messages of celebrities and crime victims was confined to reporter Clive Goodman who, along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, was jailed in 2007.

But in July the company closed the 168-year-old tabloid, amid public outrage over the disclosure that reporters had hacked the phone of a missing schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.

Crone told Britain’s inquiry into media standards that during a meeting in June 2008, he showed Murdoch a printed copy of an email that included transcripts of illegally intercepted voice mail messages.

The document is considered a key piece of evidence in proving that News International had attempted to hide the extent of the scandal from the public.

Murdoch has previously told a parliamentary committee investigating phone hacking he hadn’t been told about the email.

“What was certainly discussed was the email … and what it meant in terms of further involvement in phone hacking beyond Goodman and Mulcaire,” Crone told the inquiry, referring to the June 2008 meeting.

“What was relayed to Mr. Murdoch was that this document clearly was direct and hard evidence of that being the case,” he said.

Crone said that he believed Murdoch had likely been made aware of the contents. “I am also pretty sure that he already knew about it — in terms of it had been described to him already,” the lawyer said.

In evidence disclosed Tuesday, the junior Murdoch acknowledged that he had been sent some details in an email, but claimed not have read the message in full as it was sent to his BlackBerry over a weekend.

Separately, the parliamentary committee released a letter Wednesday in which Crone acknowledged the newspaper had checked electoral and birth records in a hunt for evidence that two lawyers acting for victims of phone hacking may have had an affair.

Lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris were both also put under surveillance by the newspaper, as was lawmaker Tom Watson — a frequent critic of the senior Murdoch.

“Neither check provided any support for the suspicion that Mr. Lewis and Ms. Harris had had or were having a relationship,” Crone said in the letter, dated Dec. 11.

British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered judge Brian Leveson to head an inquiry into press standards following the disclosure that the News of the World had for years illegally eavesdropped on the voice mail messages of public figures.

Actors Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and singer Charlotte Church are among those who have given evidence on their experience of media abuses.

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