News Corp. Tells Judge of Tabloid Editor's Prison Guard Bribe
By Erik Larson and Jonathan Browning – Jan 12, 2012 8:14 AM ET
News Corp. (NWSA) for the first time publicly detailed bribery by a journalist at its now-defunct News of the World, telling a court that a former editor agreed to pay a prison guard to get a story about a child killer.
Matt Nixson, a features editor for five years at the News of the World, told a reporter in March 2009 to pay 750 pounds ($1,150) to the guard for details about a man who murdered two girls. Nixson then said to “chuck her some more money later” since she wanted 1,000 pounds, according to court papers filed Dec. 13 in London and made public yesterday.
The disclosure is part of the company’s defense in Nixson’s lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully fired from News Corp.’s Sun tabloid, where he last worked. News Corp. closed the News of the World in July to help contain public anger after it was revealed it hacked into the voice mail of a different murdered school girl in 2002.
Nixson “was guilty of gross misconduct, or at any rate, conduct justifying dismissal without notice or pay,” members of the company’s Management and Standards Committee, which is running the investigation, said in the court filing.
Nixson’s lawyer, Alison Downie of Goodman Derrick LLP in London, declined to immediately comment. He hasn’t been arrested as part of the Metropolitan Police’s probe into journalist bribery of police. At least eight people have been arrested, including a serving police officer on Dec. 21.
Nixson, who was fired in July, knew the bribe was wrong because he told the reporter, Matthew Acton, to arrange the payment “very carefully,” since the company had a “forensic new accountant who doesn’t brook any funny business,” according to the filing. Acton declined to comment when reached by phone.
Nixson also received an e-mail from another News of the World employee about phone hacking and “blagging,” or lying to get personal information for a story, and didn’t “raise an objection,” News Corp. said in the filing.
“I’ll get [REDACTED] to do his thing on [REDACTED]’s phone,” the unnamed employee said in the November 2005 e-mail to Nixson. The name of the employee and the proposed victim, a celebrity executive producer, were removed at the request of the Metropolitan Police, News Corp. said in the filing.
Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for the New York-based company’s News International unit, declined to comment on the case. Paul Durman, a spokesman for the committee, also declined to comment.
News International is facing about 70 lawsuits filed by victims of phone hacking, as well as three police investigations and a judge-led inquiry into the ethics of U.K. newspapers, which was triggered by the scandal.
The bribe was made to get information on Ian Huntley, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 after being found guilty of murdering two 10-year-old girls attending the primary school where he worked in Cambridgeshire the previous year. In 2005, a court ruled he must spend at least 40 years in prison.
In the years after Huntley was jailed, the News of the World and other U.K. tabloids ran stories about his life in prison, saying he was given preferential treatment. A story by Acton in March 2009 said Huntely’s fellow inmates had been banned from swearing at him to avoid hurting his feelings after three failed suicide attempts. Huntley survived being slashed in the throat by another inmate in 2010.
Nixson sued the committee for recommending in July that the company fire him from the Sun, where he’d worked since 2010. He is seeking his 105,000-pound annual salary plus damages, claiming he will have difficulty finding work after being tainted by the News of the World’s phone-hacking scandal.
The committee is overseen by commercial lawyer Anthony Grabiner, a member of the U.K. Parliament’s House of Lords, and includes Simon Greenberg, Will Lewis and Jeffrey Palker.
The defense papers were filed by the committee members and not by News International, which was also sued.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.
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