Phone hacking ‘lies’ referred to Commons

THE Commons standards watchdog has been asked to examine claims that three former News International executives lied to MPs examining the phone-hacking scandal.

Former News of the World editor Colin Myler, the paper’s former legal manager Tom Crone and one-time News International executive chairman Les Hinton were accused of misleading the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee during its investigation of the events.

The men have denied the allegations, but the committee’s chairman John Whittingdale said they were “very serious matters” which should be investigated by the Standards and Privileges Committee of MPs.

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The Commons agreed without a vote to refer the phone-hacking report’s conclusions to the Standards and Privileges Committee, which has the power to recommend sanctions against the trio and News International.

Although there is the possibility of the three men being summoned to the Commons for a public dressing-down, Labour MP Chris Bryant said the Standards and Privileges Committee should also consider fines or imprisonment as possible penalties.

Mr Whittingdale said the committee agreed unanimously that the three misled MPs – and revealed “alarm bells began ringing” when it was claimed the hacking scandal was limited to one journalist – News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for conspiring to listen to voicemails.

He said documents handed to his committee showed the so-called “rogue reporter defence” was false.

Mr Whittingdale said: “The evidence we obtained made it very clear that the individual who had given evidence to us in our previous inquiry – where they had once again attempted to assure us that there was no real suggestion or evidence obtained that anybody else at the News of the World was involved in phone hacking other than Clive Goodman – was not true.

“They certainly did have documents which indicated very clearly that that was not the case.

“It was for that reason that the committee concluded that we have been misled by the three individuals.”

He said it would be for the Standards and Privileges Committee to decide what punishment the trio should face, but called for the misleading of a parliamentary committee to “bear profound consequences”.

Labour deputy chairman Tom Watson, who sits on the committee and fought to expose the phone hacking scandal, said MPs could censure other witnesses once criminal proceedings end.

Mr Watson said: “We are united in making sure the three people named receive some sort of parliamentary justice.” Commons Leader Sir George Young backed the motion and said select committees only worked if witnesses told the truth.

The Government last month launched a consultation in an attempt to clarify what sanctions were open to Parliament. It noted that the Commons’ power to issue fines was last used in 1666 and may have lapsed and that no non-MP had been punished by the House since a 1978 agreement to use penal powers sparingly.