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'Phone hacking was rife and bosses tried to hide it''

By Oliver Wright and Cahal Milmo

News International executives were told four years ago that phone hacking was rife at the News of the World and subsequently paid a jailed employee a quarter of a million pounds after he claimed that Andy Coulson authorised and then tried to hide the extent of it at the newspaper when he was editor.

Previously secret papers show that Rupert Murdoch's most senior lieutenants paid the NOTW's disgraced royal editor, Clive Goodman, £243,000 in compensation soon after he had made damaging accusations against the company and its senior staff.

These included the claims that phone hacking was widely discussed at NOTW editorial meetings until Mr Coulson "banned" mention of it.

Mr Goodman also alleged in a letter to the company that Mr Coulson promised him "a job at the newspaper" after he came out of prison if he "did not implicate the paper or any of its staff" in his mitigation plea.

The hundreds of pages of documents, released by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, also shed doubt on key aspects of James and Rupert Murdoch's evidence to MPs last month.

A firm of lawyers acting for the company claimed that parts of the Murdochs' evidence were "hard to credit", "self-serving" or "inaccurate and misleading".

James Murdoch also now admits that he misled the committee when he claimed that a payout made to a victim of phone hacking had not been influenced by a desire to keep details of the settlement confidential.

But it is the allegation that Mr Coulson knew about phone hacking and the financial attempts to prevent such information coming out in an employment tribunal that is most damaging.

The committee has called Mr Crone, Mr Cloke, the former NOTW editor Colin Myler and former legal director John Chapman to give further evidence on September 6. The MPs have also written to Mr Coulson and his predecessor as editor, Rebekah Brooks, the tabloid's former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, and Mr Hinton to ask whether they wish to clarify earlier evidence given to the committee.

Background

The latest documents released by the committee include a letter written by Mr Goodman in March 2007 appealing against his dismissal after he was convicted and jailed for hacking the phones of royal aides along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. In it he stated: "The decision is inconsistent, because (BLANKED OUT) and other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures. This practice was widely discussed until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor, Andy Coulson (right)."

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