Wade's phone was bugged in last months, book says


FORMER NEWS International chief executive Rebekah Wade’s office telephone was bugged by her own company during her last months in office, a new book, co-written by a leading critic of the Rupert Murdoch-controlled company, says.

The charge is levelled in Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and The Corruption of Britain, published yesterday by Labour Party MP Tom Watson and London Independent journalist Martin Hickman.

Intermediaries from News Corporation went to Mr Watson in June 2011, he claims, offering “to give him” former News of the World editor Andy Coulson if he would back away from focusing on Ms Wade’s role in the affair. “She was sacred,” he said he was told.

Later, however, Ms Wade’s position became weaker inside the Murdoch empire as the crisis provoked by news that News of the World journalists had hacked murder victim Milly Dowler’s mobile spread, with security staff ordered to record the times she came to and left the company’s offices.

“Cleaners were warned to avoid disturbing listening devices placed under her table by her computer in her office. The chief executive was now being bugged,” the authors write, claiming that senior Murdoch executives had become fearful of the dangers posed by the crisis.

Mr Watson accused News Corporation of operating as “a shadow state”. He said members of the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport committee backed off from an inquiry into phone-hacking because they were intimidated by the News of the World.

Former News of the World journalist Neville Thurlbeck told the authors that six of the paper’s journalists were ordered to spend 10 days digging into the private lives of members of the parliamentary committee to find embarrassing details.

“In Neville Thurlbeck’s words, ‘An edict came down from the editor and it was to find out every single thing you can about every single member – who was gay, who had affairs anything we can use’,” Mr Watson said.

“I am sorry to say that this tactic was successful. The committee’s legitimate investigation was undermined and parliament was, in effect, intimidated. News International thought they could do this, that they could get away with it, that no one could touch them; and they actually did it, and it worked,” added Mr Watson, who is deputy chairman of the Labour Party.

Repeatedly challenged, however, he could not produce evidence to show that the decision by MPs not to call Ms Wade to give evidence to them in 2009 was made because they had been frightened.

The report from the committee is likely to be finalised during meetings at the end of the month, said Labour MP Paul Farrelly, though there have been reports that the committee is divided on the strength of the language to be used about the Murdochs.

The book details the social links existing in 2005 between Ms Wade, Mr Coulson and the then director of public prosecutions Ken McDonald, including a dinner with Ms Wade a month after one of the News of the World’s reporters, Clive Goodman, had been jailed for phone-hacking.

The crown prosecution service, headed by the DPP, had decided in April 2006 “to exclude sensitive and (‘thus embarrassingly newsworthy witnesses from any prosecution’), the book, published by Penguin, says.

Meanwhile, Mr Murdoch and his son James will give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in London next week.

Mr Murdoch snr will fly from New York to appear on Wednesday, and, if necessary, Thursday, while his son will feature on Tuesday.