Here’s yet another sign that James Murdoch is in for tough questioning on Thursday, when he appears before the Parliamentary committee investigating the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal: A newly released letter to the lawmakers says that Murdoch probably knew about the extent of the lawbreaking even earlier than one of his chief opponents originally thought. Former News International lawyer Tom Crone told the committee on Saturday that new evidence disclosed last week indicates that “Mr. Murdoch already had knowledge” of the seriousness of the problem on May 27, 2008, after he met with NOTW editor Colin Myler. Earlier, Crone and Myler had testified that they filled Murdoch in on June 10, 2008. Murdoch says that’s not true — it wasn’t until much later in the year when he learned that more than one reporter had commissioned phone hacking.
The chronology is important. If Murdoch knew in early June that more than one reporter was involved, then he could be seen as paying hush money when he authorized the company to make a $1.4M settlement payment — with a non-disclosure provision — to a hacking victim who knew about a second reporter. Why didn’t Crone or Myler recall the May 27 meeting? “We may both be criticised for this,” Crone says in his note to the committee, “but I think it is probably not unusual for busy people to fail to recall detail (or even the existence) of meetings and conversations from more than three years earlier without being able to refer to written records.” Crone says he hasn’t been able to see his records since he left the company in July. Based on the evidence the committee released last week, “I accept that my recollection was incorrect in relation to certain details. I apologise for that.”