AN EMAIL written by a News International executive showed that Rebekah Brooks received detailed leaks from police about the investigation into phone hacking at News of the World in 2006, the Leveson inquiry heard last night.
The email said police had learned that more than £1 million had been paid for voice hacking and that police had a list of more than 110 victims, Robert Jay, QC, told the hearing.
The inquiry also heard that a second News International masthead, The Sun, had "a culture of illegal payments", with one public official receiving £80,000 over time and one journalist receiving £150,000 to pay sources.
The head of the police inquiry into phone hacking, Detective Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, said police were investigating "a network of corrupt officials", some of whom had been placed on retainer by The Sun.
She said payments were authorised at a senior level on the paper and emails indicated journalists recognised it was illegal, "reference being made to staff 'risking losing their pension or job', to the need for 'care' and to the need for 'cash payments'. There is also an indication of 'tradecraft', ie hiding cash payments to 'sources' by making them to a friend or relative of the source."
She said nearly all of the payments to public officials related not to stories in the public interest but to "salacious gossip" and breaches of trust and privacy.
Ms Akers’ reference to the systematic nature of alleged corruption, and its endorsement by senior executives, will be a clear signal to the US department of justice that her allegations, if proved, fall within the ambit of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Rupert Murdoch's US parent company, News Corporation, could face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars unless it can show it has co-operated vigorously with the authorities in rooting out malpractice.
The revelations came as classical singer Charlotte Church settled a court case over hacking for £600,000, the largest payout to date. Hacking of her and her family resulted in 33 stories in the News of the World.
She said outside court: "Nothing was off limits by those who pursued me and my family. I was a teenager at the time and my parents were not in the public eye. They were harassed, put under surveillance, and my mother was bullied into revealing her private medical condition [which included attempted suicide] for no other reason than that they were my parents."
The critical email that reveals News was leaked information about the police inquiry into its malpractices undermines the way News International publicly claimed for years that hacking was confined to a single rogue reporter.
The email was written by head of legal affairs, Tom Crone, to News of the World editor Andy Coulson on 15 September 2006, and was based on what Mr Crone had been told by Rebekah Wade (later Rebekah Brooks), then editor of The Sun, who had been given a police leak.
The email, headlined "Strictly private and confidential", detailed 10 aspects of the police investigation, saying that the police raid on the home of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had found voice recordings and voicemail notes from hacked phones.
It said police had records of payments to Mulcaire from News International that showed a pattern of a particular victim being focused on for a period of time before attention switched to another, and that police were visiting "bigger" victims and asking them if they had given anyone permission to access their voicemails and, if not, whether they wanted to prosecute.
"In terms of the News of the World, they suggested not widening [the investigation] to cover other News of the World people but they would if they got direct evidence [of journalists accessing voicemails]," the email said. "But they have got hold of News of the World's back numbers 2004."
The email said police seemed in one case to have a phrase from a News of the World story that was identical to the tape or note of Glenn Mulcaire’s access. "They have no recordings of News of the World people speaking to Glenn Mulcaire or accessing voicemails [but] they do have Glenn Mulcaire’s phone records which show sequences of contacts with News of the World before and after access. Obviously they don’t have the content of the calls so this is at best circumstantial."
The email also said: "They are going to contact RW [Mr Jay thought this meant Rebekah Wade] today to see if she wishes to take it further."
The email also appears to be evidence that Andy Coulson, who later become chief communications adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron before resigning over the phone hacking furore last year, knew in 2006 of the wide extent of phone hacking within the News of the World.