Law firm documents add to heat on James Murdoch

Tue Nov 1, 2011 9:44am EDT

* Documents handed over to parliamentary committee

* James Murdoch will face tough questioning next week

* Phone-tapping scandal forced closure of tabloid

By Mark Hosenball

LONDON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A law firm which represented Rupert Murdoch's London tabloids has turned over to the British parliament documents which could embarrass his son James when he returns to testify before a committee investigating a phone-hacking scandal.

Parliamentary and company sources told Reuters that Farrer & Co, a London law firm which until recently represented Murdoch's News Group properties in phone-hacking litigation, gave the material on Monday to the Culture, Media and Sport committee, which has summoned James Murdoch to testify on Nov. 10.

People working for the now-closed News of the World tabloid owned by News Corp are alleged to have hacked the phones of celebrities and victims of crime in search of exclusive stories.

As described during testimony in October before the committee by Farrer & Co lawyer Julian Pike, the documents are expected to raise questions about an account James Murdoch, the presumed heir to the News Corp empire, gave during an appearance with his father before the committee.

James Murdoch told the committee in July he did not remember being briefed about settling a phone-hacking claim brought by Gordon Taylor, head of the English soccer players' union, until a meeting on June 10, 2008, with Colin Myler, then News of the World editor and Tom Crone, the tabloid's in-house lawyer.

But Pike told the committee last month that he had notes of a meeting between Myler and Murdoch on May 27, 2008, about the case. Pike said: "27 May was probably the first time James Murdoch had been given a briefing about the cases."

"So James Murdoch has mis-recalled the sequence of events in that regard ?" Pike was asked by Damian Collins, a member of the parliamentary committee.

"I think so, yes," Pike replied.

The payout to Taylor was agreed at the June 10 meeting.

BRIEFING NOTE

Pike said that on May 24, three days before the meeting with James Murdoch, Crone sent a briefing note to Myler preparing him for the meeting. Pike said that Crone sent a copy of the briefing memo to him at Farrer & Co.

Pike said the briefing note referred to the fact that a 2005 e-mail apparently incriminating more than one News of the World journalist in voice-mail hacking had been disclosed to the company. Pike said the briefing note did not, however, mention the name of Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World's chief reporter, who is now alleged to have been the person to whom the message in question, now referred to by investigators as the "For Neville" e-mail, was addressed.

Pike also indicated to the committee he had a note of a telephone call he had with Myler after the editor's meeting with James Murdoch, as well as billing records related to these contacts.

Pike told the committee that legal privilege covering notes in Farrer & Co's possession related to the May 27 James Murdoch meeting with Myler had been waived and that he would therefore be able to disclose the documents to the committee.

On Tuesday, a parliamentary source said the material had been received in hard copy form, and might be published on the committee's website later in the day.

A spokesperson for News International told Reuters neither the company nor James Murdoch had any comment on the disclosure of the documents or their content.

TAYLOR LITIGATION

During his testimony in July, James Murdoch was asked by committee member Tom Watson if he, before approving a substantial settlement payment to Taylor, had seen or been "made aware of the full Neville e-mail, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?"

James Murdoch replied: "No, I was not aware of that at the time."

Subsequently, Murdoch sent the committee a written statement that, "Prior to the meeting on 10 June 2008, I do not recall being given any briefing nor do I recall Mr. Crone or Mr. Myler referring to, or showing me ... documents during the meeting."