(Updates with Thurlbeck’s denial of hacking involvement in 10th paragraph.)
Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Neville Thurlbeck, the former chief reporter at News Corp.’s News of the World, said he was minutes away from being fired in July 2009 when his name was linked to the phone-hacking scandal that would lead to the closure of the U.K. tabloid two years later.
He’d been summoned to editor Colin Myler’s office where he was told he would be offered a severance package in return for his resignation. Instead, Thurlbeck turned in the names of the guilty parties in the news room.
“I was three minutes away from the sack,” Thurlbeck said in an interview with Bloomberg TV at his home yesterday. “When I provided the evidence, I wasn’t sacked, I was kept on.” He was dismissed and arrested in 2011.
Revelations that the News of the World hacked into phones of celebrities, politicians and murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler led to the closing of the 168-year-old tabloid. The scandal also resulted in separate legislative, judicial and police probes. Five journalists at News Corp.’s Sun tabloid in London were arrested on Feb. 11 as part of a related investigation into bribes to officers and government officials.
Thurlbeck, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, was one of the first people arrested in the phone-hacking probe last April. Now, he said he won’t give the names of the guilty parties to anyone, including the police.
He said he regrets not going to Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, with his information at the time. Thurlbeck said the newspaper could have been saved if News Corp. had handled the allegations properly.
“If the matter had been dealt with then and the person or people responsible had been rooted out, then the rogue reporter theory would have been exploded,” Thurlbeck said, referring to the company’s early stance that hacking had been done by a single reporter in the newsroom. “With that explosion, there would have been no media campaign to have another police investigation.”
Thurlbeck’s name came up in an e-mail titled “for Neville” containing the transcripts of voicemails hacked from Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association. News Corp. ultimately paid 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million) to settle the case.
London police, who are still contacting hundreds of possible phone-hacking victims, have arrested more than 30 people in the three related probes, including the News of the World’s former editors, Brooks and Andy Coulson.
Thurlbeck has said he never participated in hacking or authorized it, including the interception of Taylor’s voicemails. Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for News Corp.’s News International U.K. publishing unit, declined to comment.
James Murdoch, the former chairman of the News International publishing unit and now deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., has told lawmakers that he didn’t realize until late 2010 that more than one reporter had engaged in phone-hacking.
Documents released in December by the U.K. Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee show that Myler wrote an e- mail to James Murdoch in 2008 saying that voice-mail interception went beyond a single reporter at the tabloid. Murdoch said he didn’t read the full e-mail because it was a Saturday and that he doesn’t recall any conversation with the editor that weekend.
In January, Myler started as editor-in-chief of the New York Daily News. Three calls to Myler’s office and the Daily News public relations department seeking comment weren’t returned yesterday.
U.K. lawmakers are preparing a report about Murdoch’s role in the scandal and may publish their findings in the coming weeks.
Murdoch was given the deputy COO job in March 2011, with News Corp. announcing plans to move the 39-year-old, who is News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son, to its headquarters in New York. By July, the company’s News International U.K. publishing unit faced phone-hacking allegations. Both Murdochs appeared before U.K. lawmakers to explain their role.
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