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Monday 1st August 2011 | 09:30
When Rebekah Brooks famously blurted out to the DCMS Committee in 2003 that "we have paid police for information in the past", most MPs were a bit gobsmacked.
Andy Coulson immediately intervened to say that the paper had only ever acted "within the law", but some were left thinking that maybe both he and Brooks assumed that paying police was not illegal.
Judging from the latest New York Times article on the hacking affair, it could be that a similar defence will be relied upon by another, less well-known figure in the affair: Jon Chapman.
Chapman, News International's former Director of Legal Affairs, played a pivotal role when NI had to deal with the fall-out from Clive Goodman's conviction for phone hacking in 2006. It was he who received a letter from outside lawyers Harbottle and Lewis, declaring that a tranche of internal emails had failed to find any evidence that Goodman's illegal actions were known by senior News of the World staff.
According to the NYT, Chapman is expected to testify that he "did not realise that paying the police was a criminal offence". Chapman, its source adds, is a civil rather than a criminal lawyer.
To my mind, this item (call it the Chapman Defence) is one of the most extraordinary pieces of this whole jigsaw puzzle (and not, as yet, picked up on by British papers).
The NYT also reveals that the so-called "smoking gun" emails include some from Goodman stressing that he doesn't want to go into details about payments because everyone involved "could go to prison for this".
Again, Chapman is lining up his defence on this too. According the NYT, he is "expected to testify that Mr Goodman's email mentioning prison seemed to him to be in jest".
So, the defence seems to be a) I didn't realise paying the cops was a crime and b) I thought it was only a joke when a Goodman talked about going to prison.
We'll find out soon what the good folks of the DCMS Select Committee (and who knows, maybe even the Home Affairs Select Committee?) think of that.
I understand that Chapman is almost certain to be called by the Committee to give evidence in person, not least because he has written to say that there were "a number of serious inaccuracies" in statements made to the Committee on the day that Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks gave evidence.
You can guess for yourself what those inaccuracies might be from their evidence HERE.
Chapman has also, through his lawyers, complained about inaccurate reports about his role in settlements and payments to third parties.
One thing's for certain. When John Whittingdale, Tom Watson and co. reconvene the DCMS Committee a fortnight today, they will be focusing on Mr Jon Chapman every bit as much as the more high-profile names in this sorry saga.
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