HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE
MONDAY 24 OCTOBER 2011
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 1320 - 1459
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Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
on Monday 24 October 2011
Mr John Whittingdale (Chair)
Dr Thérèse Coffey
Mr Tom Watson
Examination of Witness
Witness: Les Hinton, Former Executive Chairman, News International, gave evidence.
[This evidence was taken by video conference]
Q1320 Chair: Good morning everyone. This is a further session of the Select Committee’s inquiry into the evidence we were previously given relating to the inquiry we undertook into phone hacking. I would like to welcome to give evidence to the Committee the former Executive Chairman of News International, Les Hinton. Mr Hinton, this is the third occasion you have appeared before the Committee on this matter, and I would like to thank you particularly for agreeing to appear today, because I realise it is quite early in the morning where you are.
Les Hinton: Good morning, Chairman. Thank you.
Q1321 Chair: Can I start off by asking you about the letter which you sent to Clive Goodman in February 2007, in which you said that he was being dismissed, but that, in the light of his frequently distinguished years of service to the News of the World and in recognition of the pressures on his family, it was decided that, on his termination, he would receive one year’s salary? Can I ask whether you came to that decision? Did you seek advice on it? Was it agreed with others? Can you tell us a bit about the background to that?
Les Hinton: That was quite a while ago, Chairman. Of course, I would have had discussions with others, but I don’t recall with whom I had them. But it was my decision to do that.
Q1322 Chair: You decided that he should receive one year’s salary payment of £90,000, and you authorised that payment.
Les Hinton: I did.
Q1323 Chair: Right. That was a decision for you; you did not have to refer it to anybody else.
Les Hinton: No, I made that decision myself.
Q1324 Chair: Right. Following your letter, Mr Goodman wrote to Mr Cloke saying that he wished to formally launch an appeal against the termination of his employment. That letter was sent at the beginning of March, but the payment that you had already offered him in your original letter went ahead. Why was that?
Les Hinton: I can’t recall exactly what the process was of those payments, Chairman, but what I can say is that, in my mind and, I think, in others’ minds, the matter of my having given Goodman a year’s salary and the subsequent appeal were treated separately.
Q1325 Chair: Right. The appeal letter you were copied into suggested, as I am sure you will recall, that Clive Goodman claimed that he was by no means the only person who had knowledge of illegal activity. Indeed, the knowledge was widespread and frequently discussed at editorial conference. Was this complete news to you when the letter arrived?
Les Hinton: Yes, it was.
Q1326 Chair: Right. You subsequently agreed that there should be an investigation into the claims made by Mr Goodman.
Les Hinton: Yes. The letter, of course, was addressed principally to Mr Daniel Cloke, the Human Resources Director, and its arrival began the process you have heard about in detail from Daniel, Jon Chapman and Colin Myler.
Q1327 Chair: Right. So following the investigation, which you told us last time produced no evidence to support Mr Goodman’s claims, it was nevertheless agreed to give Mr Goodman a further payment of £153,000. Why was that?
Les Hinton: The process of the complaint by Goodman led to a series of things, including-I won’t go over the detail you have already received-the pretty thorough investigation of what had been claimed by him, and, as you know, there was no basis found for it. Subsequently, he threatened to go to a tribunal, and there were internal discussions I had with Jon Chapman and Daniel Cloke. There was a view-I think that Daniel said to you when he testified last month-that we would probably lose. There was an issue of a long process, which I thought was going to hamper the company’s, or the newspaper’s, opportunity to get back on track, and I decided at the time that the right thing to do was to settle this and get it behind us.
Q1328 Chair: You said in your letter to Mr Goodman in February, "In all the circumstances, we would of course be entitled to make no payment whatsoever", but you ended up making a payment approaching £250,000. Were you angry about that?
Les Hinton: In my mind, and it is probably worth while bearing that in mind, there were two issues here. I made the decision, on dismissing Mr Goodman, that he would receive a year’s salary. As to the process that kicked off after that, of course it surprised me, and I guess was annoyed. But in the end, I acted on the view that we would most likely or probably lose, in Daniel’s words, and that rather than go through that process, it was best for the company to get ahead and get it behind us. That is why I agreed to that settlement.
Q1329 Chair: The settlement you agreed was £153,000. We were told by Jon Chapman, I think, that that was broken down approximately into £40,000 in compensation, £13,000 in legal expenses and £90,000 in notice, but you had already paid £90,000 in notice, so it appears you ended up paying it twice. Can you explain that?
Les Hinton: All I can tell you, Chairman, is that we looked at the settlement proposal-that was a settlement proposal which I was advised was the best we could achieve, and I decided to go ahead with the £150,000.
Q1330 Chair: But it was a settlement proposal a component of which was a year’s notice. Surely, you could have said, "Well, we’ve paid the year’s notice already."
Les Hinton: That’s a fair question, Chairman, but at the time that’s not what we did.
Q1331 Chair: So you paid him, in essence, two years’ notice, or one year’s notice twice over?
Les Hinton: We paid him a year’s salary, and we paid him the £90,000 of notice in relation to his appeal, yes.
Q1332 Paul Farrelly: Good afternoon, Les. It’s been four and a half years since we first started discussing this with you. Can I start with the same question as I asked Julian Pike of Farrer’s at our last meeting here? When did you first become aware that answers given to this Committee by people from the News of the World or News International had not been truthful?
Les Hinton: Mr Farrelly, you said, "four and a half years". A lot has happened since then, and the full story is unclear. Therefore, for me to have a clearer view of who may or may not have been untruthful to you and when is really hard for me in this context to say with certainty.
Q1333 Paul Farrelly: This is a pretty big affair for the media here and for you because you’ve now resigned after 52 years. I’m just asking, when did you first become aware that the answers that this Committee had been given were either not truthful or not the whole truth?
Les Hinton: I think it is clear, based on events, in particular, I suppose, over the last 12 months or so, that some of the answers that you were given were not accurate. Whether they were-whether calling them "untruthful" is the appropriate word, I don’t know.
Q1334 Paul Farrelly: Well, Mr Pike’s answer was a lot more clear-cut, because referring to the evidence session first of all in July 2009, which preceded your second appearance, he told us that he was aware that we were not being told the truth as soon as the witnesses opened their mouths.
Les Hinton: I heard a little of Mr Pike’s evidence. I think he was referring, in what he said, to the events around the Gordon Taylor settlement, all of which happened after I had left.
Q1335 Paul Farrelly: I’m aware of that. I want to come back to what happened in your tenure before you left in December 2007. Can you not pin down at any point when you became aware that we were not being told the whole truth or even the truth at all?
Les Hinton: I think it became very clear in the last couple of years, I guess, that there was much more to this affair than seemed apparent when I left, but pinpointing anything beyond that, Mr Farrelly, is difficult for me to do.
Q1336 Paul Farrelly: Okay. That takes us pretty much back to when you last appeared two years ago. Again, the same question as to Mr Pike: when you became aware of this, and having appeared in front of us twice, what did you do about it?
Les Hinton: Mr Farrelly, I was, as you know, and have been since December ’07 working in another country with another company. I was aware, I think, a year after it happened of the Gordon Taylor settlement. My involvement beyond testifying to you at some period soon after that about my experience and what had happened when I was there was limited to that.
Q1337 Paul Farrelly: Do you think that you were complicit in any way in letting untruths, misleading statements and the lack of the whole truth lie on the record without correction?
Les Hinton: I don’t think I was complicit in the way in which you’re suggesting. What I am telling you is that events have evolved quite significantly in the time since I departed. My involvement in what happened has been pretty well limited to my testimony last time.
Q1338 Paul Farrelly: Can I just come back to when you first appeared on 6 March 2007? You told the Chairman that there was a full and rigorous inquiry. You admitted that it was continuing. Clearly, since then we have established that that was not the case. It was made clear not only in our report but by the fact that as recently as July this year, Linklaters, acting for the Standards and Privileges Committee, disowned statements made about Burton Copeland’s inquiry. So that was not the whole truth. When did you know about the letter of 2 March 2007, which was copied to you by Clive Goodman and which made allegations that other people knew? When did you receive it? In particular, did you receive that letter before you came and talked to us?
Les Hinton: That’s a good question. I am not 100% certain, but I do not believe that I was aware of Goodman’s complaints when I appeared before you in 2007.
Q1339 Paul Farrelly: But you were certainly aware of them when you appeared on 15 September 2009, having gone through the whole process.
Les Hinton: Yes.
Q1340 Paul Farrelly: Can I read out an answer that you gave to me in September 2009? I will quote you: "There was never any firm evidence provided or"-two key words-"suspicion provided that I am aware of that implicated anybody else other than Clive within the staff of The News of the World. It just did not happen, Paul. Had it happened we would have acted." Having been through Clive Goodman’s allegations and settled with him, that statement you gave to us in September 2009 was not anywhere near the truth, was it?
Les Hinton: I don’t think that I would regard Mr Goodman’s letter as evidence of anything. There were accusations and allegations by an employee who had been dismissed for gross misconduct.
Q1341 Paul Farrelly: We can quibble about what constitutes evidence, but you use the words, "or suspicion provided". Clive Goodman provided you with plenty of suspicion, didn’t he?
Les Hinton: We reacted very responsibly-and you have heard more detail than you are going to get from me about it-to what Mr Goodman claimed. At the end of it, we could discover no basis for what he was claiming. I think, therefore, my statement is valid.
Q1342 Paul Farrelly: Can I move quickly on to the pay-offs that John has referred to and other members might want to refer to? Getting the full extent of those pay-offs out of The News of the World and News International has been like pulling teeth. Clearly, you were aware of the full extent of them. Last time, in September 2009, you admittedly said that you could not discuss them or had been advised not to discuss them.
Les Hinton: Yes.
Q1343 Paul Farrelly: Have you been aware all along that the evidence that we have been given, including a letter from Rebekah Brooks after she became Chief Executive, was only partial?
Les Hinton: Having been in New York, I did not play a part in the response to that information. When I spoke to the Committee, I answered honestly on two counts. First, that it was subject to confidentiality and, secondly, that I did not remember. I did not play a part. I answered you honestly then, and I did not play a part in the response that you received from News International. I do not particularly remember registering, either one way or the other, what it contained.
Q1344 Paul Farrelly: We have pretty much got to the bottom of what happened with Clive Goodman, including his letter to Daniel Cloke, copied to you. You said you could not talk much about that, or about dealings with Glenn Mulcaire in September 2009, but would you care to share with us what happened with Glenn Mulcaire and how far his proceedings went and what allegations he was making?
Les Hinton: You were advised of this in a letter. [Interruption.]
Chair: Sorry, Les; we lost you for a second.
Les Hinton: That he had made an employment claim. As I recall in Mr Chapman’s note to you, he said, having looked at it, that there was a significant prospect about losing that case in a tribunal and we went ahead and settled.
Q1345 Paul Farrelly: My question was rather different. We know what Clive Goodman was alleging, as part of his appeal and potential proceedings. My question to you is: can you share with us what Glenn Mulcaire was alleging?
Les Hinton: He, as I recall-this was specified, as I said, in a note to you two years ago, Mr Farrelly-had claimed employment-related claims on which he based his appeal. The advice I was given was that there was a significant chance that we would lose that at appeal, and so I decided to settle.
Q1346 Paul Farrelly: So he wasn’t, as far as you were aware, making similar sorts of claims to Clive Goodman-that he had been acting for other journalists, that he was not just working on his own with Clive Goodman and so on?
Les Hinton: Not that I’m aware, no, Mr Farrelly.
Q1347 Paul Farrelly: Can I ask you, Les, what do you think happened at the News of the World? Was there a small group of people who decided that if we keep the façade and stick together the truth won’t get out and the boss, Rupert Murdoch, won’t get to know about it, otherwise we’ll be for it? Is that what happened?
Les Hinton: Look, this whole affair is still unfolding, Mr Farrelly. I look forward, at some point when everything is known, to being able to answer that question, but I cannot now.
Q1348 Paul Farrelly: I am going to wrap up now and pass on to colleagues, because we are not getting very far. Regarding the pay-offs, Rebekah Brooks wrote a letter to us, dated after your departure but regarding events within your tenure. She wrote to us in November 2009. Regarding the Goodman claim, she said she applied an analysis, looking at everything in the round, and recommended to Les Hinton, the Executive Chairman, that we explore settlements. Could you tell me what Rebekah Brooks’s role in that was, because she was only appointed Chief Executive of News International in September 2009? Why did she have a role at all?
Les Hinton: Mr Farrelly, I think, with respect, you may have misread the letter. The line that you were just quoting, I think, was part of that submission by Mrs Brooks that was written by John Chapman.
Q1349 Paul Farrelly: Right. Okay. So she didn’t have a role in that at all?
Les Hinton: At the time that this happened, she was Editor of The Sun.
Q1350 Paul Farrelly: Okay. That’s my misreading. Can I ask you finally, Les, because there are a lot of specifics that I clearly won’t get very far on with you today. Regarding your resignation after 52 years, a pretty mortifying moment, could you just tell us-my colleague Tom Watson wants to come on to this in more detail-what conversations you had with Rupert Murdoch before taking that step? Did he ask you, "What went on here, Les? Why did you let it go so far? How have we come to this?" Can you just give us a general description?
Les Hinton: The issue in my mind, and I said this in my resignation letter, was that although I am aware that I was in charge of this company at the time the core wrongdoing took place. Things reached such a scale that I felt, given the consequences, the victims of what appears to have happened-I would like to now give my unreserved apologies to those who have been victims-the fact that the News of the World was closed and a lot of people who clearly had nothing to do this lost their jobs. This was a terrible moment for everyone else but, in the context of things, it was for me as well, and I told Mr Murdoch that I wanted to go.
Q1351 Paul Farrelly: So, just very finally given that statement, can you tell us now: what part do you think you played by either act or omission in ensuring that the full truth about this affair did not come out early enough?
Les Hinton: Until I am clear on what it is that happened, it is a perfectly proper question but it really isn’t at this moment one I can properly answer. I really look forward to the day I can.
Q1352 Mr Watson: Good morning, Mr Hinton. You resigned as boss of Dow Jones on 15 July, is that right?
Les Hinton: Yes, I think you are right.
Q1353 Mr Watson: And you’ve just told my colleague Paul Farrelly you resigned because you felt you needed to take responsibility for what went on on your watch. Is that right?
Les Hinton: I thought that having been responsible for the company and seeing what had unfolded that it was proper for me to go, yes.
Q1354 Mr Watson: Are you still being paid by News Corp or any other company associated with News Corp?
Les Hinton: I am no longer an employee of News Corporation. I have not worked there since the day I left.
Q1355 Mr Watson: Are you still being paid by News Corp in any capacity?
Les Hinton: I have a settlement agreement with them, yes. But I am no longer associated with the company in anyway.
Q1356 Mr Watson: Did you keep the car?
Les Hinton: I beg your pardon?
Mr Watson: Have you kept the car?
Les Hinton: Have I kept calm?
Mr Watson: The car, the motor car, the vehicle.
Les Hinton: I have not kept a motor vehicle, no.
Q1357 Mr Watson: Have you kept any office space in News Corp premises?
Les Hinton: I have no office space in News Corp premises, no.
Q1358 Mr Watson: Is your severance paid as a salary payment or a one-off payment?
Les Hinton: The separation agreement is obviously the subject of confidentiality and I am not at liberty to discuss the detail of it.
Q1359 Mr Watson: Can I ask why you are not permitted?
Les Hinton: It is a standard confidentiality agreement and it does not permit you to discuss its detail.
Q1360 Mr Watson: Is part of the detail within that confidentiality agreement that you don’t talk about the hacking scandal?
Les Hinton: I can’t discuss the details of this agreement. I am sorry, Mr Watson, but, by my declining to discuss any detail, you shouldn’t assume anything from that.
Q1361 Mr Watson: Have you talked to the police about the hacking scandal?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1362 Mr Watson: So you’ve not been interviewed in anyway by the Metropolitan police?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1363 Mr Watson: Have you been interviewed by Viet Dinh, the board member responsible for the corporate governance of News Corp, with responsibility for the hacking scandal?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1364 Mr Watson: Are you surprised that he has not taken an interest in what you knew and what you didn’t know, given that he has taken a personal lead on it?
Les Hinton: I can only tell you that I haven’t spoken to him about it.
Q1365 Mr Watson: In your previous answer to Paul Farrelly you said that evidence has been emerging in the last couple of years that hacking was wider at News of the World. Is that right?
Les Hinton: That’s what seems to have been happening, yes.
Q1366 Mr Watson: So does it surprise you that, at the last annual general meeting-not the one this weekend, but the year before-Rupert Murdoch told shareholders that hacking was the work of a single rogue reporter?
Les Hinton: I don’t recall him saying that, so I can’t really comment.
Q1367 Mr Watson: Well, he did say that. If he did say that, was he misleading shareholders?
Les Hinton: I don’t recall what he said and I am not sure even what my chronology is. I know that the company in the last, I guess, seven or eight months-or maybe longer-has acknowledged the issue. I am saying that, as things were emerging- particularly in relation to the police files being sought by civil claimants-there was a point where there seemed to be more than that, but I can’t comment on Mr Murdoch’s statement.
Q1368 Mr Watson: Given that you have said that in the last two years the evidence now emerges that there was wider involvement in phone hacking at News of the World, if you were addressing last year’s AGM would you have used the single rogue reporter defence?
Les Hinton: In answering Mr Farrelly I said two years, and I am not sitting here with a calendar in front of me, but the truth is that over a period of time there were indications emerging that there might be more involved; but what was being said or claimed by various people is another matter.
Q1369 Mr Watson: When you gave us evidence in 2009 you told us that Rupert Murdoch was very concerned about the Goodman case. Did you make him aware of the Julian Pike submission that said there was a powerful case that three others were involved in phone hacking?
Les Hinton: Mr Watson, I think Mr Pike told you that that matter was really in relation to the Gordon Taylor event.
Q1370 Mr Watson: So if he was very concerned, but it was your decision to sack Goodman, why did you tell him you had sacked him?
Les Hinton: Sorry, Mr Watson, I did not quite follow the question.
Q1371 Mr Watson: You said he was very concerned. You told him that you had taken the decision to sack Goodman. On what grounds did you sack him?
Les Hinton: For gross misconduct.
Q1372 Mr Watson: And you told Rupert Murdoch that?
Les Hinton: I don’t remember the detail of any conversation with Mr Murdoch. I think it was an automatic matter that Goodman was going to be dismissed. I do not recall a particular discussion with him.
Mr Watson: He was going to be dismissed because he had been found guilty in a court of law or because the company was aware that he was involved in phone hacking?
Les Hinton: He was dismissed after his conviction and sentencing.
Q1373 Mr Watson: Is that the test that is applied to all employees?
Les Hinton: The test being what?
Q1374 Mr Watson: That you have to be found guilty in a court of law before you are guilty of gross misconduct.
Les Hinton: Of course not. Gross misconduct can cover many things. He was fired for gross misconduct because of what happened.
Q1375 Mr Watson: So does it surprise you that when company executives were told in 2008 by Julian Pike that there was a powerful case that three others were involved in phone hacking, they were not immediately sacked for gross misconduct?
Les Hinton: I was not aware he had, and I don’t know what the terms or the evidence were so I can’t really answer that.
Q1376 Mr Watson: Given that you had sacked someone for gross misconduct, would you have sacked them if you were still in charge?
Les Hinton: I don’t know the circumstances; I don’t know the identity; so it is too hypothetical for me, Mr Watson.
Q1377 Mr Watson: Does it surprise you that there wasn’t even a company investigation?
Les Hinton: I don’t know what happened.
Q1378 Mr Watson: But what would you have done on your watch, if a lawyer had given you a briefing that said there was a powerful case that three of your employees were involved in criminality?
Les Hinton: I would have looked at it, and reacted, but this is such a hypothesis: I don’t know what was said when I was not there; I don’t know what the company did. I really think it is a little much to expect me to put some hypothesis on what they may not have done.
Q1379 Mr Watson: But the very least you would have done was mount an internal investigation?
Les Hinton: I don’t know what it was that was alleged. I don’t know what the circumstances were. I can’t-I’m sorry-put myself in their position.
Q1380 Mr Watson: I’ll tell you what was alleged. What was alleged was there were three other journalists involved in phone hacking. Given that you were in charge of the last investigation-if that evidence was given to you, you have just said you would have mounted an investigation; there is nothing hypothetical about that-does it surprise you that there was not one?
Les Hinton: If I clearly had substantive evidence of wrongdoing, then you can consider a reaction to it, but I really don’t know what happened in the case of Mr Pike’s letter.
Q1381 Mr Watson: Okay. The payment to Gordon Taylor of £425,000 happened after you had left. What was the highest payment you ever authorised, for an out-of-court settlement?
Les Hinton: I don’t know, I can’t remember.
Q1382 Mr Watson: You’re not doing badly, Mr Hinton, you have only said that you can’t remember seven times so far. In 2009, you used that phrase 32 times.
Les Hinton: Thank you, but we’ve got a long way to go, Mr Watson.
Mr Watson: I’m glad you have kept your sense of humour at least.
Les Hinton: Seriously, you are talking about events that happened five years or so ago, and I am not-nor did I two years ago-going to do anything if I don’t remember except say so. So forgive me, but I am being straightforward.
Q1383 Mr Watson: So just to conclude, the £425,000 payment to Gordon Taylor effectively bought his silence as a victim of crime. You took responsibility for what went on on your watch by resigning. Should James Murdoch resign, and take responsibility for what happened on his watch?
Les Hinton: I see no reason why James Murdoch should resign.
Mr Watson: Thank you.
Q1384 Philip Davies: Mr Hinton, you said that when you gave evidence to us in 2009 you answered honestly-that is what you said earlier on today. Back in 2009, I asked you whether or not the legal fees for Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire had been paid, and your answer was, "I absolutely do not know. I do not know whether we did or not." Then you say it again, "I honestly do not know." Was that absolutely honest?
Les Hinton: It was absolutely honest. Two things: first, I wasn’t sure and, secondly, I wasn’t expecting the question. Thirdly, I also said to you that it would not be unusual in such a case for someone’s legal expenses to be met, and I know that in a written request that the Committee made subsequently that question wasn’t asked of me. No, I was not-I was not being dishonest.
Philip Davies: But it’s true to say-
Les Hinton: Sorry, Mr Davies, but if I had been sure at the time, I would have told you.
Q1385 Philip Davies: But in 2009, you did know that Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees had been paid, didn’t you, because you authorised them?
Les Hinton: Yes, but what I told you was that I wasn’t sure, that I did not expect the question and that I was not going to answer without being certain.
Q1386 Philip Davies: That really was not the impression that you were giving. You said, "If we paid their legal fees the company would know; but I do not."
Les Hinton: "I do not know" because I did not recall. I really don’t think that this is reasonable, Mr Davies. That question was answered later by people who had a record of it.
Q1387 Philip Davies: So can you explain to us, now that you do know that you authorised the payment of their legal fees, why you did that?
Les Hinton: Since we spoke, a couple of things that I didn’t mention at the time, or didn’t occur to me to mention, were, first, that I was out of the country for a good two weeks from the moment of the Goodman arrest. I spoke to Mr Coulson who told me that he was organising a solicitor and legal representation for him, and I allowed him to do that. I did not subsequently question him.
Q1388 Philip Davies: Why?
Les Hinton: Because he was an employee of the company. It is not at all unusual, when an employee of the company is arrested in relation to their employment, that they get representation costs upwards.
Q1389 Philip Davies: Who told you that that is not unusual?
Les Hinton: I don’t think that, whether you are a contractor or an employee and are working on behalf of a company, being indemnified in the event that you are subject to a legal action is at all uncommon. That is my experience.
Q1390 Philip Davies: When you said that you agreed to settle the case with Clive Goodman, you seemed to be saying that it was because you were told that that was what you should do by the lawyers. Are you still sticking to that particular line?
Les Hinton: As I said to you two years ago and as I am saying now, any settlement such as this which I become involved in is one that I am going to authorise, and that is what I did. As you know, two years ago, when Mr Chapman wrote to you, he said that he had recommended to me that we seek a settlement, which advice I took.
Q1391 Philip Davies: Mr Chapman did not actually say that when he came to give evidence to us. He said, "It was not me agreeing to that… It was Mr Hinton." He was saying that the decision was taken by you; he did not take the decision. Daniel Cloke, as the HR person, said, "I probably would have dealt with the process slightly differently". So it is not really right that you were just following their advice, is it? This was a decision that you were making, and making on your-
Les Hinton: Hang on. First, I do not see a conflict in what Mr Chapman wrote two years ago and what he said to you. He was, I think, drawing a distinction between the advice that a lawyer gives and the decision that an executive makes. So far as I could tell in looking at his evidence, he did not demur from having recommended to me to make a settlement, but I made the decision on the settlement. It was my responsibility.
Q1392 Philip Davies: When I asked Mr Chapman what his advice to you had been, he said, "I was asked to try to reach a reasonable settlement", so it was not advice-it was not that he was advising you to reach a reasonable settlement; he was asked to reach a reasonable settlement by you.
Les Hinton: Yes, as he was, and as his letter to you two years ago said, he gave me advice and I asked him to reach a settlement. His advice was that we should seek a reasonable settlement, but it was not his decision; it was mine.
Q1393 Philip Davies: It did not seem to be his advice either. In the session-
Les Hinton: Just a minute, Mr Davies. You have a letter from him two years ago, saying that he advised me to reach a settlement. If you thought there was a conflict in what he said two years ago and what he said before you last month, I am surprised you did not raise it with him then, because I do not see the conflict.
Q1394 Philip Davies: We did raise it with him then. We are beginning to learn not to take at face value anything that we were told two years ago, Mr Hinton. We are in this position today because people were not straightforwardly telling us everything two years ago.
When we had Rupert and James Murdoch here, Jim Sheridan said to Rupert Murdoch, "do you accept that ultimately you are responsible for this whole fiasco?" And Rupert Murdoch said, "No." Jim Sheridan said, "You are not responsible. Who is responsible?" And Rupert Murdoch replied, "The people that I trusted to run it, and then maybe the people they trusted. I worked with Mr Hinton for 52 years and I would trust him with my life." Should we take it from that that Rupert Murdoch holds you responsible for the whole fiasco?
Les Hinton: I would not take that from it, but I did resign because I was responsible for the company at the time this happened. I think the consequence for me of what happened is fairly clear, and I wanted that to be the case.
Q1395 Philip Davies: In terms of agreeing to come to give evidence today, was that your decision alone or did News Corporation speak to you and encourage you to come to give evidence?
Les Hinton: It was entirely my decision. I did not have any discussion with News Corp about whether or not I should come.
Q1396 Dr Coffey: We have not met before, Mr Hinton, but during this investigation we have had assertions from Clive Goodman-in his letter, I think, that was sent to you-that he had been given an expectation that he would be able to work for News International again in some capacity, and that seemed to be supported by assertions made by Tom Crone last month. So did Andy Coulson or Tom Crone ever suggest to you that you re-employ Clive Goodman after he had served his sentence?
Les Hinton: I do not recall his ever asking me to give him his job back, no.
Q1397 Dr Coffey: Did anybody else ever suggest it to you?
Les Hinton: I do not remember anyone suggesting it, no.
Q1398 Dr Coffey: In terms of re-employing people who have been convicted for crimes, why would that be in any way considered, whether as a contractor or as an employee? I am trying to understand the cultural norms at News International in employing known criminals, in the case of their work, as opposed to hitting somebody or drink-driving or something that is not connected to their work.
Les Hinton: I dismissed him.
Q1399 Dr Coffey: So you never had in mind that he would ever receive another penny in remuneration for employment from News International while you were Chief Executive.
Les Hinton: No. I dismissed him for gross misconduct, so of course not.
Q1400 Dr Coffey: Could you clarify what procedures were in place to report criminal activity at appropriate board levels?
Les Hinton: Criminal activity covers a wide range of things, whether it is embezzlement or a fraud within the office. Those amount to criminal activity, but such things were dealt with within the company and by the law.
Q1401 Dr Coffey: To give you an analogy, I used to work for a family company, and News Corp has very much the feel of a family company with its special structure. Although you would not want the family to know about certain activities, there were certainly clear procedures in place for any kind of-as you suggested-embezzlement, fraud or criminal activity undertaken in the course of the operations of the business. Is it fair to say that that did not exist within News International?
Les Hinton: No, I am not saying that. I do not want to assume too much, but if there were a case involving some sort of criminal activity of any kind, I am sure it would be recorded by HR and by the legal department for that purpose.
Q1402 Damian Collins: Mr Hinton, I want briefly to go back to your evidence in March 2007. Towards the end of that session, the Chairman said, "You carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry, and you are absolutely convinced that Clive Goodman was the only person who knew what was going on?" Your answer was, "Yes, we have and I believe he was the only person, but that investigation, under the new Editor, continues." First, there never was a rigorous internal inquiry into this matter, was there?
Les Hinton: When I spoke to the Chairman in 2007, a long time ago, we had an exchange of about four hours. It was a very broad-ranging discussion about matters involving the press, and this came up a couple of times. The issue was about knowledge within the company and within the newspaper of Clive Goodman’s activities. It was my understanding that there had been an inquiry internally into whether others knew.
Q1403 Damian Collins: What inquiry did you think there had been?
Les Hinton: I understand that more recently there has been some conflicting evidence, but you have heard that solicitors were brought in with two functions: to liaise with the police to make certain that they could get all the assistance they needed and to look at what had happened internally in relation to Clive.
Q1404 Damian Collins: That is not what Burton Copeland said. It was very clear in written evidence to the Committee that it did not conduct an investigation; it had a very narrow remit to liaise with the police.
Les Hinton: I understand that, Mr Collins, but what I am telling you is that there was other evidence. My information at the time-this is very recent-was that it had been involved in looking at the activities of Clive in relation to other people.
Q1405 Damian Collins: You seem to have a confused understanding of what its role was, given that it is your company and given that you felt confident to agree with the Chairman that there had been a rigorous internal investigation, which clearly there never was. Can you confirm that there never was a rigorous internal investigation?
Les Hinton: What I have told you is what my understanding was when I answered the Chairman’s question about what Burton Copeland’s functions included, so I was answering his question as honestly as I knew it at the time.
Q1406 Damian Collins: So you did not understand how limited the remit was? Is that what you are saying?
Les Hinton: All I can tell you is what I have read-you have read it too-and that is that Burton Copeland has written a qualifying letter, but I know what I was told at the time. When I spoke to the Chairman, that was my understanding.
Q1407 Damian Collins: You had the police investigation going on, which revealed the case against Clive Goodman, and a law firm had been hired to liaise with News International staff about that, but you were not aware of what their role was. Is that what you are saying?
Les Hinton: What I am telling you is what I was aware of and what I was told their role was. I did not speak personally to Burton Copeland, no.
Q1408 Damian Collins: You did not feel that it was maybe your responsibility to ask questions, given that they were working on the police investigation in your own company?
Les Hinton: The police were involved, lawyers were involved. I was not personally involved.
Q1409 Damian Collins: We will come back to that in a second. Something you were personally involved with was the e-mail review that Daniel Cloke and Jonathan Chapman conducted, following the letter you received on 2 March 2007, which then led to the separate review by Harbottle & Lewis. Daniel Cloke said that he agreed the terms of reference for the initial internal inquiry with you, and then discussed the outcome. Could you tell us a little about those conversations? On what terms did you discuss that with Daniel Cloke? What was your reason for setting the remit for the investigation that you did?
Les Hinton: I was not involved in specifying the particular remit. What Daniel was overseeing was a response to the claims that Goodman had made, and that included the review of e-mails. On the extent to which they were limited, I cannot recall the discussion, but I know that it related specifically to the claims that Goodman had made. I recall Goodman or his lawyers making particular requests for particular e-mails, but I do not remember more than that.
Q1410 Damian Collins: So it was Daniel Cloke’s recommendation to you on how the e-mail review should be conducted. Did he basically say that he wanted to investigate the claims that Clive Goodman had made in his letter?
Les Hinton: The entire premise of this investigation-the foundation of this investigation-was a response to what Goodman had claimed.
Q1411 Damian Collins: So the review was conducted, and then he sought your permission to bring in Harbottle & Lewis to review that work. Is that correct?
Les Hinton: I am foggy on this detail. He may well have recommended that we do it, and then gone ahead and done it, but I know that the review took place.
Q1412 Damian Collins: Then he came back to you and told you the outcome of the work that Harbottle & Lewis had done?
Les Hinton: He told me that the entire process of investigating Goodman’s claims led to nothing.
Q1413 Damian Collins: Is that what he told you?
Les Hinton: Yes.
Q1414 Damian Collins: Did he show you the letter-the opinion of Harbottle & Lewis that concluded their work?
Les Hinton: I have seen the letter, but I do not actually remember Daniel showing it to me. He may well have done, though.
Q1415 Damian Collins: Did you ask him any questions about the review-about the work that had been done?
Les Hinton: No. I relied on Daniel and Chapman-two very experienced guys who had nothing to with any of the events that may or may not have happened at News of the World. I relied on them as professionals to conduct this; I did not scrutinise detailed processes, no.
Q1416 Damian Collins: Did you discuss the review with Colin Myler?
Les Hinton: No, I did not, except that Colin, too, I recall, told me that nothing had come up from the investigation that could lead to anything.
Q1417 Damian Collins: When you gave evidence in 2009, you said that, when you brought Colin Myler into the News of the World in 2007, you wanted him to get to the bottom of what had gone wrong, to conduct seminars, to talk to people about ethics and the company’s code of practice, and to look for any evidence of wrongdoing. Did you discuss that remit with him during his time as Editor, or did you just leave him to get on with it?
Les Hinton: To put Colin’s role in perspective, he came over at my request from New York to the News of the World for a series of reasons. He came over with nothing at all to do with this, and I hope that one day he will forgive me. He had two functions. One was to make sure that processes were right, and that any measures that needed to be taken to be certain that people were well aware of proper rules of conduct would happen. I told him that he should keep talking to people, and that if he had any cause for concern about others’ activity, he should act upon it. I feel sure that he would have done. He never raised any issues with me.
Q1418 Damian Collins: If I could refresh your memory, in an answer that you gave to a question from the Chairman in 2009, you said that the Editor had "a clear remit to do two things: make sure that any previous misconduct was identified and acted upon and that the prospect of any future misconduct would be ruled out." Was that a brief you were giving him-to have a full review, a rigorous internal investigation, into whether there was anyone else who had been involved in phone hacking?
Les Hinton: No. He, I knew, would be speaking to lots of people, which he did. He was sending out e-mails; he was writing and speaking to various people. I had told him as well-I attached great importance to the turmoil that all this had caused for the News of the World-that he would just settle down the company and get people back on track. It was a great newspaper and deserved to recover from this. I wanted him to be alert and to speak to people, and if he discovered anything that he was worried about, he should pursue it. That was the extent of what I asked him to do, yes.
Q1419 Damian Collins: Do you accept, Mr Hinton, based on your evidence to this Committee both in 2007 and in 2009, that this Committee was misled by News International about the nature of these internal investigations, how rigorous they were and whether they had led to anything?
Les Hinton: It is very easy now to look back at all this in the much more difficult environment that we are in now. I felt at the time that what had been done was thorough, and I thought myself that it was sufficient, and I think others did too.
Q1420 Damian Collins: How do you know?
Les Hinton: Looking back on it now, I really look forward to understanding exactly what unfolded and what we might have done that we did not.
Q1421 Damian Collins: But if we take what you have said at face value today, you simply did not know. You just left it to other people to get on with it. You did not know if there had been a rigorous internal investigation, because you have never been shown any evidence of it.
Les Hinton: But I was never provided with any evidence of suspicion, or against people, either, so that was the important issue for me.
Q1422 Damian Collins: If you will forgive me, Mr Hinton, I must say that for somebody who has worked for a news company for 50 years, you do not seem to have a very inquiring mind.
Les Hinton: Well, I will leave that to your judgment. Just to give you some context, this is a very important matter, which has taken on a greater scale than any of us could have imagined. I was, at the same time as dealing with this, relying on others, because we had a company with 4,000 people, numerous newspapers, digital businesses and offices all over Europe and in Britain; I did have a lot of other things to do. You can, in retrospect, challenge whether I was sufficiently inquiring, and it is a fair point, but I did not think I was less inquiring than I needed to be at the time.
Q1423 Damian Collins: You left the company in July this year, and before your departure, the work of Mr Lewis to review the Harbottle & Lewis file had been conducted. Rupert Murdoch talked about that when he gave evidence to the Committee. Did you discuss that review with the Murdochs at that time-earlier this year? Did they ask you what had gone on during that review, given that you had been in charge of the company at the time?
Les Hinton: No, I was aware that there had been a subsequent review and that questions had been raised, but I was not personally involved in discussing it or explaining that. I just became aware of what may have emerged, and I am not quite sure what has.
Q1424 Damian Collins: So did anyone in the company ask you about the Harbottle & Lewis review of this year?
Les Hinton: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Q1425 Damian Collins: No or maybe?
Les Hinton: I am sorry, I just cannot remember. There were a lot of issues, and there was a discussion about this matter, especially as it blew up. There was publicity about the review, and the review of the review, and that was a topic that I do not recall being particularly inquired of about, now.
Q1426 Damian Collins: Did you have any conversations with the Murdochs, or the team briefing the Murdochs, before they gave evidence to the Committee about the Harbottle & Lewis review and the internal investigations of the company?
Les Hinton: Not about the Harbottle & Lewis review, no.
Q1427 Damian Collins: But about other aspects of the inquiry?
Les Hinton: I had conversations, going back-a conversation, a few months ago, in which I basically gave a narrative of my experience and what I knew and what had happened. That predated by a significant time the testimony of the Murdochs.
Q1428 Damian Collins: By two or three months?
Les Hinton: I would guess it was early summer, yes. May, maybe; I am not sure.
Q1429 Damian Collins: So two months before?
Les Hinton: Possibly.
Q1430 Damian Collins: I ask because Rupert Murdoch was clearly very badly briefed when he gave evidence to the Committee. He referred to the Harbottle & Lewis review and the work of Burton Copeland as being internal investigations to get to the heart of, and find out, what was going on, and he was subsequently shocked when it turned out that things that perhaps should have been acted on at the time were not. Were you party to that briefing of Rupert Murdoch?
Les Hinton: I did not have a conversation with Mr Murdoch about those subjects, no.
Q1431 Damian Collins: Not at all?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1432 Damian Collins: I have one final question to ask-I have got as far as I can with these questions-which touches on something else that you said in the evidence session in March 2007 on the nature of phone hacking. I was interested in this, in terms of the culture within the company for which you worked. If you do not mind, I will read out your answer. It is several lines, but it is helpful to set the context. You were asked about phone hacking and journalists pursuing stories, and you said: "If Andy Coulson, when he was Editor of the News of the World, had called up the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and said, ‘I have to tell you, Mr Blair, that one of my reporters was accessing a phone message, a voicemail, and we have reason to believe that, two days from now, bombs will go off on the London Underground’, I doubt that Mr Blair’s first words would have been, ‘Mr Coulson, you’re under arrest’. We operate in this area all the time. It is not to say that we do not make mistakes or that we will continue to, but placing too great an inhibition on people who are setting out to explore what they consider to be genuine issues of public concern is a dangerous thing to do."
When you said, "We operate in this area all the time," you were deliberately referencing phone hacking. I am not saying that you knew of widespread incidents of phone hacking, but does that not suggest that there was a culture within the company whereby almost anything was permissible to find stories?
Les Hinton: No, it does not suggest that at all. That exchange goes back to the much more enjoyable and freewheeling days when I would appear before the Committee and we would often have a proper, robust discourse on such things. That was a completely random example. I accept that it demonstrates that journalists could find out the most important things-the things that other people do not want them to know-and that, sometimes, it is legitimate to employ techniques that would ordinarily not be mooted, but I did not mean to imply that phone hacking was an everyday thing; on the contrary. It was in a day when the climate between people such as myself and this Committee was rather different from how it is now.
Damian Collins: Thank you very much, Mr Hinton.
Chair: We have a few more follow-up questions.
Q1433 Paul Farrelly: Following the Harbottle & Lewis inquiry, it transpired that a cache of e-mails, a file of documents, was left in the safe at Harbottle & Lewis. When I pressed Rupert Murdoch on that, he was fairly damning, pointing the finger at Jon Chapman for having sat on that file for years, he said. Following the conclusion of that review, did Jon Chapman mention anything to you about other evidence that he found that may have indicated payments to police or potential further criminality beyond phone hacking?
Les Hinton: He definitely did not, Mr Farrelly.
Q1434 Paul Farrelly: He said nothing at all about anything else that they had found?
Les Hinton: Nothing-nothing.
Q1435 Paul Farrelly: We have learned recently that the first time that Farrer’s, your former solicitors, and Gordon Taylor’s lawyers became aware of the now infamous "for Neville" e-mail was at the beginning of November 2007, which was still on your watch as Executive Chairman. We learned from their evidence that Tom Crone was made aware of the existence of that e-mail. Did anyone see fit to mention it to you?
Les Hinton: I don’t remember it ever being mentioned. I am pretty certain that it wasn’t. Also, in that letter, Farrer’s themselves said that they did not actually see the memo that led to all the activities that you have been concentrating so much-
Q1436 Paul Farrelly: But they learned about it.
Les Hinton: Yes, but I did not learn about it, no.
Q1437 Paul Farrelly: It just seems that the old joke about the mushroom seems to come to mind. You seem to have been kept in the dark by quite a number of people.
Les Hinton: Thank you. I do not actually think that is fair. I have seen that letter and I knew there was a complaint by Taylor, as I told you more than two years ago, but I do not recall anything. In fact, I am certain that I was not told anything about a "for Neville" e-mail. I did not become aware of the "for Neville" e-mail until-gosh-a year after the Taylor settlement appears to have been made.
Q1438 Paul Farrelly: Given all that has happened, do you consider that anybody at the News of the World or some of your people at News International ever, at any stage, kept you in the dark?
Les Hinton: I cannot answer that question, because I do not know what happened. At some point, I want to know even more than you, Mr Farrelly.
Q1439 Paul Farrelly: So you would not point the finger at Andy Coulson, Tom Crone, Colin Myler, Stuart Kuttner, Daniel Cloke or Jon Chapman? They all did their best.
Les Hinton: I do not think it is reasonable-especially in the situation we are in now-for me to be pointing the finger at anyone, Mr Farrelly.
Q1440 Paul Farrelly: I have got just one final question, Mr Hinton. There are a lot of big things about which you are hazy and you do not remember, but you certainly remembered that I appeared to be misreading from a letter in November 2009, which was written by somebody else.
Les Hinton: Yes.
Q1441 Paul Farrelly: Which is a remarkable contrast. Can I ask you whether there is anything else that you are aware of that happened in this affair-about phone hacking or other potential criminality-while you were Executive Chairman at News International that is not already in the public domain and that you would like to share with us?
Les Hinton: No, I am not aware of anything, and since you are raising the issue of my memory, I would like to-in my ability to answer your question on the last time I opened that letter, Mr Farrelly-thank the wonders of the parliamentary website, because I have been able to go over documented accounts.
Paul Farrelly: Thank you very much.
Q1442 Chair: I want to follow up on the "for Neville" e-mail. You are correct that the actual copy was not made available to News International until after you left; but nevertheless, it was then regarded as significant enough to completely alter the terms of the Gordon Taylor settlement, as you know. When you gave evidence to us in 2009, did you not talk to your former colleagues just to say, "Can you bring me up to speed? Has anything happened?"?
Les Hinton: No, I did not. In fact, I have not spoken about this matter to Crone, Chapman or Cloke for years, so I did not do that, no.
Q1443 Chair: So essentially, from the day you left London to go to New York, you put phone hacking out of your mind until it was only recently resurrected.
Les Hinton: No. I would have loved to have been able to do that, but I did not think much about it until the Taylor settlement and your last invitation to appear before you. I thought it right, in testifying before you, that I relied upon on my recollection, so I did not communicate with anyone else, no.
Q1444 Chair: You did say that, before you appeared before us in 2009, you had a prep session-a briefing. Did you not, as part of that, think to talk to anybody in London about whether or not any new information might be relevant?
Les Hinton: No. I was sent-I think I remember-several of those Q-and-A things that are hardly ever right. There were some exchanges at the time, but what I did not do, because I thought it was the proper thing to do, was start having conversations with anyone one or refreshing and comparing memories, because I did not think that would be helpful to you or right for me.
Q1445 Mr Watson: Just to pick up on some of the things that you have said, Mr Hinton, you said that you received a Q-and-A thing. Can we have a copy of that?
Les Hinton: I doubt that I have got it. I do not work there any longer. I would be very surprised if it still exists.
Q1446 Mr Watson: I am sure that a digital copy exists. The company has recently given a number of million e-mails to the police, so we can try and track it down. I think you have just said that you were aware of the "for Neville" e-mail in 2009. Can I just confirm that that is the case?
Les Hinton: I was aware of the "for Neville" e-mail after the Gordon Taylor settlement became public.
Q1447 Mr Watson: Okay. You said that you believe that sometimes journalists needed to use techniques to get information. Does that include tracker devices on people’s cars?
Les Hinton: I am not familiar with that ever being used as a device, no.
Q1448 Mr Watson: What about hacking computers?
Les Hinton: I would have thought that was highly illegal, and I am not aware of that being done, no.
Q1449 Mr Watson: Do you have a suspicion that people might have been commissioning hacking computers now you know what you know?
Les Hinton: I have read newspaper reports and I have heard your own comments, Mr Watson, but I never have had the suspicion of it being done in the company that I had been working in, no.
Q1450 Mr Watson: Would it surprise you if it were revealed that computers were hacked now-at some point in the future?
Les Hinton: It would surprise me, yes.
Q1451 Mr Watson: Just on the point-I think my colleague, Damian, might have got this, but I just want to get it right. You said that you were told that there was a vigorous investigation. Just let me know, who told you that?
Les Hinton: At the time that the initial arrests happened, Andy Coulson was the Editor there and he was overseeing the entire reaction to it, and my conversations and the conversations which led me to tell you what I did-I think Mr Coulson, in his own evidence, reiterated it-that was the basis on which I believed there had been an internal inquiry into who was aware of Clive’s activity.
Q1452 Mr Watson: So it was your belief that the vigorous investigation was taking place as a result of the things that Andy Coulson told you.
Les Hinton: Andy was the man in charge of the newspaper when all this happened, yes.
Q1453 Mr Watson: So he gave you the impression there had been a vigorous investigation-yes or no?
Les Hinton: Come on, it’s not a courtroom, Mr Watson. I think I can answer the question the way I choose. He appeared to me to be very conscientious in reacting to it.
Q1454 Mr Watson: Have you ever met the private investigator, Jonathan Rees?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1455 Mr Watson: Have you ever met the private investigator, Philip Campbell Smith?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1456 Mr Watson: Are you aware of any other private investigators that were contracted to work for News of the World?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1457 Mr Watson: Or any other News International newspaper?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1458 Mr Watson: Are you aware of payments that were made to the police?
Les Hinton: No.
Q1459 Mr Watson: Are you aware of payments that were made to any other public officials?
Chair: Tom, we are getting into areas which are subject to the police investigation.
Les Hinton: No.
Mr Watson: Okay. Thank you.
Chair: I do not think the Committee has any more questions. Can I thank you very much for making yourself available?
Les Hinton: Thank you very much, Chairman. Good morning.
Chair: Good morning to you.