LONDON (Reuters) - The former royal editor at Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World told a London court on Wednesday that senior figures at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper arm put pressure on him to take the flak for phone hacking to avoid implicating others.
Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for illegally accessing the voicemails of mobile phones belonging to senior aides to Britain’s royal family, said News International bosses tried to buy his silence and wanted him to be cast as a “lone wolf”.
After the practice was revealed in 2007, News International (NI) stated publicly and in parliament that phone hacking was limited to Goodman, who was described as a rogue reporter, and a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for the paper and was also jailed.
However, police investigations were re-opened in 2011 and four former News of the World journalists have since admitted phone-hacking offences.
Two former editors - Rebekah Brooks, who had become NI’s chief executive, and Andy Coulson, later Prime Minister David Cameron’s media chief - are now on trial accused of conspiracy to hack phones.
Goodman and Coulson are also accused over alleged illegal payments to police officers for telephone directories of the royal household. They all deny any wrongdoing.
Giving evidence for a fourth day, Goodman said immediately after his arrest in August 2006 he feared he would get the blame for all the illegal activity at the paper involving Mulcaire.
Shortly after his arrest, Goodman said Coulson phoned him at home telling him he would be suspended, strongly suggested he should plead guilty as soon as possible and indicated he would have a job at the paper if he kept quiet about anyone else being involved in hacking.
“I was disturbed by the phone call,” Goodman said. He visited an internet cafe near his home, logged on remotely to his work email account and forwarded emails which might incriminate others to a new account. Many of these have been shown to the jury in the trial.
“I was enormously worried ... I was going to be blamed for all these phone-hacking activities.”
Both his lawyer Henri Brandman, who was paid for by News International, and Coulson had raised the topic of “me being a lone wolf, which worried me,” he told the court.
Goodman fought back tears as he said Coulson, who he has sat next to in the dock since the trial started last October, had implied his family would be looked after if he kept silent about the involvement of others.
“I thought it was pretty low to involve my family,” he said.
Goodman said despite his specific instructions, Brandman passed details of the prosecution case to an NI executive who also put him under pressure to keep quiet about the extent of phone-hacking at a meeting he held with his lawyers.
During that meeting the executive presented Goodman with what the reporter described as a carrot-and-stick deal for him to keep his job in return for his silence.
Eventually, he reluctantly accepted his lawyers’ advice, even though evidence clearly implicated others.
“It was plain the police took a decision to stop with me and go no further,” he said. “I didn’t really feel I had any choice.”
Goodman was jailed for four months in January 2007, which was when Coulson also resigned, denying all knowledge but saying he bore ultimate responsibility. Weeks later, the new editor of the News of the World said that Goodman was a single rogue reporter.
While in jail he was sacked. In an email read to court detailing his appeal against this, he said the decision was perverse as his actions had been carried out with the editor’s full knowledge with payments approved by the managing editor.
He said others involved in phone-hacking had not been disciplined and also cited how Coulson had promised him a job if he did not implicate anyone else.
His appeal was rejected but days later, while he was considering taking the company to a public employment tribunal, NI offered him a 140,000 pound pay-off with a confidentiality clause to which he agreed.
He told the court while he had initially been angry at Coulson and NI, he now bore them no ill will.
“I wished we had all been allowed to get on with our lives. Purely in the interest of self-defence I have had to say things which cause me pain,” he said.
Four others are also in the dock for a variety of offences and the trial continues.
Editing by Kate Holton, Janet Lawrence and Sonya Hepinstall