19 Jan 2012

‘I was a coward for not telling Brooks about hacking’

In his most comprehensive interview since his arrest, former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck tells Andy Davies he was a “coward” for not telling Rebekah Brooks about phone hacking.

In 2004, as the newspaper’s chief reporter, he broke the story of David Beckham’s alleged extramarital affair with Rebecca Loos.

Four years later he penned a News of the World piece which claimed, incorrectly, than an orgy attended by former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley had a Nazi theme. Mr Mosley was subsequently awarded £60,000 for invasion of privacy.

It was the discovery of a transcript of an email now known as the “For Neville” email in private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s papers, with lists of alleged phone hack transcriptions, which confirmed that hacking at the paper extended beyond just one “rogue reporter”.

It is Thurlbeck’s position on the “For Neville” email that this had involved hacking by other News of the World journalists – not him. Furthermore, he claims he named those journalists to his editor and legal manager in 2008.

On 5 April 2011, three months before the closure of the News of the World, Thurlbeck was arrested as part of the Operation Weeting investigation into phone hacking at the paper. The NoW subsequently sacked him.

‘I look back with shame’

In an interview with Channel 4 News Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies, Neville Thurlbeck calls himself a “coward” for failing to alert the most senior News International management about phone hacking at News of the World.

On the subject of whether or not he himself ever commissioned the action of phone hacking, Thurlbeck reasserts his innocence. But he admits that he should have spoken to his then NoW editor, Rebekah Brooks, about what was going on.

“I look back with shame and say, ‘I should have knocked on Rebekah Brooks’s door. I knew Rebekah very well. I was her news editor when she was editor. We had a very good relationship.”

Thurlbeck says he discussed the issue with his closest friends but could never make up his mind whether or not to go to the chief executive officer.

Complicated allegations
On his newspaper’s coverage of the Milly Dowler affair, Thurlbeck reveals that he was in charge of the newsdesk for one of the three weeks in which the paper investigated her disappearance.

He claims neither he nor other executives were made aware at the time that the Surrey schoolgirl’s phone had been hacked by NoW.

“The Milly Dowler story and the allegations surrounding that story are very complicated, and they will have to be unravelled by the police,” he tells Andy Davies.

“But at no time was I aware that the phone had been hacked by the News of the World – if it was hacked by the News of the World. I was not aware of that.”

He continues: “They (the voicemails) could have come from a police source. It’s a mistake to jump to the conclusion that the people on the News of the World knew that these voicemails had been hacked.”

And he maintains that had the NoW been aware that the Milly Dowler’s voicemails had been hacked, the newspaper would never have printed them.

‘Formalising a relationship’

Neville Thurlbeck tells Channel 4 News that in the mid-90s he became a registered confidential source with the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). He went by the codename “George”, was registered for nearly 10 years, and gave the police information on a weekly basis.

Asked by Andy Davies if he had any qualms about signing up as a confidential source with the police at this time, Thurlbeck explains: “I needed to get information. The police were volunteering information in return for me giving them information.”

He acknowledges that some people might think the relationship was a little too “cosy”, but points out that all journalists need to get information – by whatever legal means they can.

And he denies he was working for the police. “I was formalising the relationship between journalist and police.”

Father’s sympathy

Neville Thurlbeck, who is currently on police bail, recently called for a “tabloid revolution” on his blog, bemoaning past “dark agendas of hate”, “vicious character assassinations”, “gross invasions of privacy” and “misleading, sensational headlines”.

In his interview, he expresses regret over some of the stories he was involved in. But on the issue of his Max Mosley expose, for which the News of the World was successfully sued, he reiterates his belief that the paper had a right to publish the story.

He does, however, express his sympathy for Mr Mosley over the loss of his son, who died from a drugs overdose in the aftermath of the publicity surrounding his father’s case.

“As a father to another father, I have enormous sympathy for Mr Mosley and his family (…) How could you not? It’s something he will never get over.”