James Murdoch could face questioning by the police over claims he made to Parliament about an email showing that hacking at the News of the World was not confined to a single “rogue reporter”.
Labour MP Tom Watson contacted Scotland Yard after two former senior executives at the paper publicly challenged Mr Murdoch's evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week. Scotland Yard confirmed it had received a letter from the MP, which it said was “being considered”.
In his evidence to the committee on Tuesday, Mr Murdoch said he had been unaware of an email suggesting hacking at the paper was more widespread when he agreed a reported £700,000 out-of-court settlement with Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, in 2008.
But in a statement on Thursday night, Colin Myler, the former editor of the paper, and Tom Crone, its former legal manager, said Mr Murdoch was “mistaken” and that they had informed him of the email, which had been obtained by Mr Taylor's lawyers.
Mr Murdoch, News Corp's deputy chief operating officer, said he stood by his original evidence. Yesterday David Cameron piled further pressure on Mr Murdoch when he said: “Clearly, James Murdoch has got questions to answer in Parliament, and News International has got some big issues to deal with.”
Mr Watson, a member of the committee, said the police involved in the Operation Weeting inquiry into phone hacking now needed to investigate what happened as a matter of urgency.
“I think this is the most significant moment of two years of investigation into phone hacking,” he said. “It shows that James Murdoch not only failed to report a crime to the police, but, because there was a confidentiality clause involved in the settlement, it means that he bought the silence of Gordon Taylor, and that could mean he is facing investigation for perverting the course of justice.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is taking legal action over claims his phone was hacked, sought to step up the pressure on the company with a call for the suspension of Rupert and James Murdoch from their roles at News Corp. In a letter to non-executive directors, he said there had been a “complete failure to tackle the original criminality at the company” and “the lackadaisical approach to such matters would suggest there is no proper corporate governance within the company”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “I think people will want to look at the comments that were made and resolve the different versions of events that we've seen.
“In the end, this is going to be a matter for the police, but I think the chair of the Culture Select Committee, John Whittingdale, is right to now inquire of James Murdoch to try and reconcile this discrepancy.”
Mr Whittingdale said: “James Murdoch stated in our hearing that he wasn't aware of the Neville email when he came to authorise the payment to Gordon Taylor. Tom Crone, the legal manager, and Colin Myler, the editor of the News of the World, have now said that they did tell him.
“Obviously those two statements are in conflict. We were going to ask James Murdoch in any case to supply us with additional information and we will certainly be asking him to address this point when he does so.”
The email at the centre of this latest twist in the phone-hacking scandal — known as the “For Neville” email, in reference to the News of the World’s then chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck — contained transcripts of hacked phone messages. Critics of media giant News International say it shows that, at the time of a £700,000 out-of-court settlement with Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association in 2008, it was known within the company that the practice of phone hacking was not just confined to the former NoTW Royal editor Clive Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.