Tuesday. 21 October 2014

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News International faces £1bn hit, reveals 2nd secret recording

Revealed: frustration of Rupert Murdoch’s UK chief over huge co-operation with police

We’ve still got coppers in this building next to us… We’re actually working to try and get them out of the building

Tom Mockridge, speaking as chief executive, News International

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers face total costs from phone hacking of £1 billion, according to an estimate by a key lieutenant.

The private assessment is far higher than the $448 million publicly declared by Murdoch’s group so far for costs and potential exposure from both phone hacking at the defunct News of the World and the paying of public officials for information by journalists on The Sun.

The staggering estimate of up to £1 billion for phone hacking alone was given by Tom Mockridge, as chief executive of News International, during a private meeting with arrested journalists on The Sun. Next week sees the start of the first in a series of trials over phone hacking.

Exaro has obtained a full transcript of Mockridge’s meeting, which was secretly recorded, along with audio of a series of his astonishingly blunt comments. The meeting was at the headquarters of News International, the UK subsidiary of News Corporation that has been rebranded as News UK and publishes The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

On the secret recording, Mockridge says: “There’s a shitload of just financial expense – across the civil cases,” he says. “The hacking probably, by the time it’s all over, is going to cost News Corp minimum of £500 million, if not a billion.”

Mockridge strongly suggests that News Corporation had been too compliant with the police as the investigation spread from phone hacking to bribery, castigating the “bloody lawyers”. The company had decided on what he describes as “open-heart-surgery co-operation” with the police. The spread of the police investigation beyond phone hacking to bribery was “a surprise to Rupert, down”.

One Sun journalist describes the handing over of material that identified confidential sources to police as “one of the greatest acts of treachery in journalistic history”.

Mockridge replies: “You ask me personally, I’d agree with you,” adding, “That sticks in my craw. But again, it’s a decision the News Corporation company has made.”

The disclosure of Mockridge’s bombshell comments come after Exaro revealed the recording of another meeting in which Murdoch admitted knowing for decades that his newspaper journalists were bribing police and other public officials.

Exaro published the full transcript of the Murdoch meeting, which was held in March, along with audio extracts of his private comments.

Only on Tuesday, Exaro disclosed how Murdoch’s lieutenants fear that the recording of him threatens the future of his entire empire, holing the strategy of containing the toxic scandals to the newspaper arm in the UK.

The Mockridge meeting last November was held to tell Sun journalists that one of their colleagues had been suspended. The colleague had just become the first Sun journalist to be charged under ‘Operation Elveden’ over paying public officials for information for stories.

Mockridge was running News Corporation’s Sky Italia in 2011 when he succeeded Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International. He left News International last December, and later became chief executive of Virgin Media.

Mockridge told the arrested journalists that they would be suspended if charged, but not necessarily sacked even if convicted.

Murdoch, at the March meeting, told Sun journalists who had been arrested to “just trust me” when they asked whether they would be given their jobs back.

He also said that the company, through its management and standards committee, had not supplied the police with any documents “for months” for their investigations.

Mockridge tells Sun staff at his private meeting with them about his frustration with the police investigations and his exclusion by News Corporation from decisions about how to respond to them.

“We’ve still got coppers in this building next to us,” he says. “We’re actually working to try and get them out of the building, and trying to get them to terminate the ongoing investigation.”

A spokesman for News UK said in a statement simply: “Tom Mockridge no longer works for the company.”

Mockridge declined to comment.

Exaro today publishes a full transcript of the Mockridge meeting of more than an hour and 10 minutes. On Monday on Exaro, hear all our audio clips of Mockridge’s astonishing comments – totalling more than 12 minutes.

Additional reporting by Mark Conrad and Tim Wood.

If you have information – including any recordings – that might help our investigation, please contact us.

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