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James Murdoch retakes center stage in phone hacking scandal

Former News of the World executives testified today that James Murdoch was aware that phone hacking at the now-defunct tabloid was more widespread than he claimed to know.

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Trouble for James Murdoch came today at a hearing in front of the House of Commons Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee. It was there that Tom Crone, ex-legal manager from NotW, said he was "certain" he told Murdoch about an e-mail that suggested phone hacking was more widespread than first claimed. Colin Myler, the tabloid's last editor, supported Mr. Crone's testimony, saying that the e-mail's contents were discussed at a 15-minute meeting in June 2008.

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The e-mail was related to the written transcripts from intercepted voicemail messages from the phone of Gordon Taylor, head of the UK’s Professional Footballers’ Association, who was suing the newspaper at the time. British police passed on the documents to Mr. Taylor.

The documents offered irrefutable evidence that the paper's hacking was not restricted to one "rogue reporter" as previously claimed by the newspaper – former NotW royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 alongside private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for hacking into the phones of royal aides. Since the Dowler affair has been revealed, NotW is thought to have hacked into the phones of as many as 4,000 people.

Mr. Crone told the committee that it was after discussing the contents of the e-mail during the 15-minute meeting that James Murdoch agreed to pay Mr. Taylor a settlement of £425,000 ($693,000) – and agree to a confidentiality clause.

During his appearance before the same committee in July, however, Murdoch denied any knowledge of the e-mail and claimed he only became aware of the scale of the hacking problem much later.

Crone told the committee: “It was clear evidence that phone hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman. It was the reason we had to settle the case and in order to settle the case, we had to explain the case to Mr. Murdoch and get his authority to settle, so clearly it was discussed.”

Mr. Myler added: “There was no ambiguity about the significance of that document and what options were there for the company to take.”

However, Murdoch rejected the claims in a statement issued Tuesday through News International, News Corp.'s arm that operates its British papers. He said: “I stand by my testimony, which is an accurate account of events.

“I was told by Mr. Crone and Mr. Myler when we met, in that short meeting, that the civil litigation related to the interception of Mr. Taylor’s voicemails to which Mulcaire had pleaded guilty the previous year. Neither Mr. Myler nor Mr. Crone told me that wrongdoing extended beyond Mr. Goodman or Mr. Mulcaire."

Media analyst Claire Enders at Enders Analysis said little new emerged from today’s hearing. She said: “It seems to me like it’s claim and counterclaim. Because there were no minutes from that meeting, we don’t know what was said, but I think now it’s inevitable that James Murdoch will be recalled by the committee.”

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