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Harbottle & Lewis Attacks 'Self-Serving' Murdoch Over Phone Hacking Review

The media law firm Rupert Murdoch accused of making a "major mistake" when it found no widespread evidence of phone hacking at News International four years ago has launched a broad-based attack on the company.

In written evidence provided to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee , Harbottle & Lewis said its role had been mischaracterised by the newspaper group, and said it was not hired to provide the company with a "good product certificate".

Harbottle & Lewis were hired in 2007 to investigate around 300 emails after a former reporter found guilty of intercepting voicemail messages claimed the practice was rife throughout the paper. The law firm said at the time it found no evidence of illegal actions.

But in a letter to the committee published on Tuesday the firm claimed they were only charged for a discrete and specific task, namely to search through five folders of emails that were requested by Clive Goodman ahead of an employment tribunal.

The investigation was explicitly limited in scope, the firm said, and was not a wider analysis of whether senior executives knew about phone hacking.

The company said that News International had been "self-serving" in attempting to portray its findings as a wider exoneration of responsibility for illegal techniques used by journalists.

"The retainer was expressly limited to the context of Mr Goodman's employment dispute," the firm said. "There was absolutely no question of the Firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes."

Far from completing a broad investigation into wrongdoing, as suggested by New International CEO James Murdoch, Harbottle & Lewis said they only had access to a "limited selection" of documents, which were looked at over a period of two weeks by mostly junior employees.

It said:

"If the firm had initially been given a retainer as broad as instructions 'to find out what the hell was going on' or (to put it more formally) to undertake an investigation which News International could use for broader purposes, such as laying it before the Parliament as independent support for the 'one rogue reporter' theory, the firm would have refused the instructions."

The company said that the emails appeared incomplete, and that it had no access to any other material other than those explicitly provided by News International.

"It was not given free rein to look through whatever it wanted. It was asked to search through some emails which had been assembled by News International and isolated into a specific area on News International's server (the "5 sub-folders"). It was given no access to other documents or to witnesses."

It was previously reported that the committee was planning to request representatives from the law firm to give evidence in October regarding its role in the crisis.