Neville Thurlbeck, the former News of the World chief reporter at the center of the phone hacking scandal — the man holding the smoking gun, so to speak — picked a curious moment to stand up for News Corp.'s top executives. On Monday, a few days after James Murdoch's second grilling by the parliamentary committee investigating the scandal, Thurlbeck stepped forward with a set of talking points in defense of Murdoch and his former boss Rebekah Brooks, points that the elaborated upon in a Wednesday morning column for the Press Gazette, whose editor notes, "Thurlbeck is bidding to clear his name in the court of public opinion." Thurlbeck's pun-laded 2,000-word piece reads less like a confessional and more like a testimony.
We've emphasized a few lines in the column's key passage:
Do I believe James Murdoch when he says he was never informed of the ‘transcript for Neville’ email? I do.
This may seem odd from a man who wants to kick his pants for unfairly dismissing him after 21 years of loyal service. A man who defended him and his father around the dinner tables of London when confronted with ideological baggage carriers like [Labour MP Tom] Watson for 21 years. A man who won them a host of awards and was rewarded with the bullet. Without even a hearing.
I feel like booting him into the Thames and firing foam pies at his dad from a very large cannon. But as you can see, there was a pattern of withholding vital information from James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. … James Murdoch should have the benefit of the doubt.
As you can read, Thurlbeck is a little bit bitter about being fired from News of the World this past February. He directs his disdain towards former bosses Tom Crone and Colin Myler, who accused Murdoch of having lied to Parliament about his knowledge of phone hacking, pointed to the "for Neville" email as evidence that Murdoch had been looped in earlier. However, Thurlbeck unreservedly pushes blame to Crone and Myler, whom he says hid the evidence from Murdoch and Brooks. "Mr Murdoch had been kept in the dark and deprived of vital evidence showing phone hacking went far wider than the Goodman/Mulcaire issue," Thurlbeck told Reuters on Monday. "Myler and Crone failed to disclose this critical evidence to Mr Murdoch."
This is shaping up to be quite a face-off. Thurlbeck, who's currently suing News Corp. for wrongful dismisal and denies ever having participated in phone hacking, is becoming the Murdoch family's biggest advocate in the phone hacking investigation. He says that Crone and Myler could have put a stop to the phone hacking practices and saved News of the World, despite also having recently admitted that he begged Crone not to show Murdoch the incriminating email. In the other ring, Crone and Myler aren't budging on their accusation that James Murdoch knew about the phone hacking practices and failed to contain the crisis in 2009.
As for James Murdoch, he's also holding his ground. Even critics admitted that the News Corp. executive performed well at last week's parliamentary hearing, and he's been silent since. Rebekah Brooks, who Thurlbeck also attempts exonerates, is probably enjoying her $2.7 million severance package, including two-years use of a News Corp. supplied chauffered limousine and London office.