IT looks as though the key document in the phone-hacking scandal, at least as far as News Corp and James Murdoch are concerned, is going to be the “For Neville” email, analysed here by David Leigh and the inestimable Nick Davies. For the purposes of this discussion this is the key paragraph:
“Neither side disputes that James, without telling his father, agreed to hand over almost £1m of the company’s money for a settlement that was to be kept totally confidential: £300,000 charged by their own outside lawyers, another £220,000 for the fees of Gordon Taylor’s lawyers, and a monster payoff of £425,000 in personal damages to Taylor. This was a sum almost twice the £250,000 that, according to James, outside counsel had advised was the likely damages Taylor could get if he won at trial. On the face of it, the deal made little commercial sense.”
Up until now we have heard a great deal about Murdoch, Myler and Crone but we’ve heard nothing from Gordon Taylor about his case. In 2009 Davies in The Guardian reported that a payout to the PFA Chief Executive included a gagging clause.
Why was Taylor hacked? As the country’s highest earning union leader (Taylor was paid over £1m-a-year by the PFA in 2007, the year before the he received his pay-off) there’s no doubt that his affairs could be, to some extent, in the public interest.
Yet Taylor’s phone messages are also likely to hold information about or directly from his members, some of whom are the most in-demand celebrities in the country. In short, Taylor’s phone was hacked to invade the privacy not just of himself but of those leaving messages – his members, whose interests he is paid a substantial sum to represent.
Furthermore, Taylor’s an intelligent enough man to be able to reason that his phone is not the only one likely to be hacked. Other people in the public eye, again, including his members, would have been vulnerable to exactly the same methods he was.
By accepting the News Of The World pay-off in exchange for his confidentiality didn’t Taylor fail to expose an action which left his members potentially more vulnerable to muck-raking activities?
That Taylor’s members were vulnerable was, seemingly, widely acknowledged. In his highly recommended book Englischer Fussball in 2009, Raphael Honigstein discussed the way in which England internationals were hounded by non-sports journalists and interviewed Henry Winter and Martin Lipton amongst others:
“’They rummage through players’ dustbins, restaurant bills left on tables are pocketed. At a news conference a reporter from the Mail grabbed the microphone and asked David Beckham about his parents’ divorce,’ Winter says. ‘You can imagine how much he felt like discussing the following day’s game with us after that.’ Another favourite, if probably illegal, ploy is to ring players’ mobile phones and hack the pin code to their voicemail. ‘They really don’t care about anything,’ Lipton complains about the ‘Rottweilers’ as they are known in the business. ‘They turn a player over and are never seen again. We have to clear up the mess afterwards.’”
That footballers in this country, especially, though not exclusively English internationals, are hounded due to celebrity they’ve acquired primarily for being good at the game is why Honigstein so offhandedly refers to their phones being hacked.
These are the people Taylor is supposed to represent.
Could it have been different had Taylor refused the out of court settlement and chosen to expose the on-going hacking?
Ed Miliband has recently, in his uniquely woolly way, been discussing the notion of “a responsibility deficit ” among those in the higher echelons of our society.
Taylor is obviously well within his rights to pursue redress through civil action, but this decision to ‘sell’ his ability to speak out is arguably an example of a responsibility deficit. He chose not to report or expose illegal acts of which he had proof.
These illegal acts were primarily undertaken to undermine, among others, those who he represents.
This arguable failure to represent PFA members’ interests has to be addressed primarily between Taylor and those very members.
And with that in mind I would encourage any member to ask Taylor and the PFA the following questions:
- Did the PFA issue any communication to members in and around 2007 onwards to members or representatives of members advising them to be aware of potential issues around their voicemail?
- What did Gordon Taylor do with the News Of The World’s £425,000 payoff?
- Did Gordon Taylor report to the PFA’s management committee that his voice mail had been hacked?
- Did Gordon Taylor ask for, and was he given any, assurances that phone hacking had stopped as a practice at the News Of The World?
- Has Gordon Taylor requested he be freed from his confidentiality clause to testify in front of Lord Justice Leveson’s public enquiry into phone hacking or to appear before the DCMS Select Committee?
Gordon Taylor should now feel able to speak about what went on.
That Taylor was reluctant to expose what was occurring doesn’t make him unique.
What has become clear is the impact News International as a whole has had upon public life in the country. Examining the failures of this country’s elite in almost every area over the last 30 years, it is accurate to argue Taylor is small fry.
Interestingly though, Rupert Murdoch argued at the select committee that this country’s MPs are underpaid and discussed the expenses scandal in the context of this.
Broadly speaking, I’d possibly agree with him though he went far further than I would, arguing they should be paid a million pounds, like Singapore, and they’d be independent, incorruptible and feel able to act in the interests of the people.
In 2011 this year Gordon Taylor said he was “worth his hire”. He’d make an interesting case study of Murdoch’s theory.