News review 2011: Phone hacking

As more shocking details emerged and the police inquiry progressed, a string of senior executives –including Rupert and James Murdoch – were forced before MPs to answer questions about whether the practice was widespread and who was culpable

The actions of HR within the organisation and its part in the affair also came under the spotlight.

In July, the role of former NOTW group HR director Daniel Cloke was called into question. It emerged that he was one of only a handful of directors who were privy to thousands of emails contained in the original internal investigation into phone hacking in 2007. The review – which followed the jailing of former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glen Mulcaire – had concluded that their criminal activity had been an isolated incident.

But Cloke was called before a parliamentary select committee in September and forced to defend his conduct. He insisted that senior executives were “surprised” when Clive Goodman claimed that phone hacking was widely discussed at the Sunday tabloid. MPs also heard that Goodman had received payments totalling more than £200,000 following his dismissal in order to avoid an employment tribunal.

One of People Management’s most commented on stories of the year was our interview with Professor Roger Stear, who insisted that the scandal highlighted the need for HR professionals to take responsibility for behavioural standards and company culture. His view that “HR are delinquents when it comes to ethics” prompted much debate among readers.

PM blogger Graham White also agreed that HR needed to do more to avoid impropriety within organisations. Fellow commentator Susan Jacobs questioned at what point internal organisational behaviour went from being acceptable to outside the moral code, while PM’s editor Rob MacLachlan said that the NOTW debacle had highlighted the difficulties HR can face when it comes to influencing business culture.

When the NOTW finally closed its doors for the last time in July, up to 200 staff faced redundancy. Legal experts warned that the short timeframe and lack of redeployment considerations within the wider group of papers might lead unfair dismissal claims from NOTW journalists. Even sacking jailed employees could make organisations liable for unfair dismissal, lawyers said, after a controversial dismissal letter sent to Clive Goodman came to light during the hacking case.

Although the beleaguered newspaper at the centre of the phone hacking scandal is now defunct, the Leveson enquiry into press ethics and the role of both journalists and the police in phone hacking practices is ongoing. A host of celebrities, public figures, reporters and newspaper executives have already testified, and it remains to be seen whether tighter press regulation will be recommended or improper behaviour within other media organisations will be unearthed.