- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

LONDON (AP) — A legal adviser to Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers warned the company three years ago there was overwhelming evidence that several senior journalists at the News of the World tabloid were using illegal methods, according to documents released Tuesday.

The documents bolster claims that high-ranking executives of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp. global media empire were aware that phone hacking was more widespread than they let on.

British lawmakers investigating the hacking scandal that incensed the British public, prompted the arrest of more than a dozen journalists and forced Mr. Murdoch to shut down the News of The World released a copy of the opinion provided to Mr. Murdoch’s company and lawyers by lawyer Michael Silverleaf in 2008.

In it, Mr. Silverleaf said there was “overwhelming evidence of the involvement of a number of senior … journalists in the illegal inquiries.”

At the time, the newspaper was being sued by soccer players association chief Gordon Taylor over alleged phone hacking.

** FILE ** Media baron Rupert Murdoch gives evidence before the British Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in this image taken from TV on Tuesday, July 19, 2011, in London. (AP Photo/Press Association)
** FILE ** Media baron Rupert Murdoch gives evidence before the British ... more >

Mr. Silverleaf wrote in his opinion that News Group Newspapers, publisher of the News of the World and referred to as NGN, should increase its offer for a settlement with Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Silverleaf said “at least three” journalists appeared to have been “intimately involved” in illegal research into the affairs of Mr. Taylor. In addition to the spying on Mr. Taylor, Mr. Silverleaf noted “substantial surrounding material” documenting the extent to which reporters tried to gain illegal access to information about other individuals.

“In the light of these facts there is a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at NGN in order to produce stories for publication,” he wrote.

The newspaper later settled with Mr. Taylor out of court for 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million).

Executives at News Corp. insisted until early this year that phone hacking had been the work one rogue reporter. Mr. Murdoch shut down the tabloid in July after evidence emerged that the practice was much more widespread and the British public was outraged at his journalists’ hacking into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.

The scandal has claimed the jobs of top Murdoch executives in the United Kingdom and the United States and forced the resignations of Britain’s top two police officials and Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief.