09/22/2011 05:20 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2011

News International Executives Knew Of Widespread Phone Hacking In 2006: Independent

Police told top executives at News International that phone hacking at the News of the World went beyond one individual as early as 2006, according to The Independent.

The paper's claim provides a sharp counter-narrative to the story that Rupert Murdoch's company has been telling since the phone hacking crisis began. Clive Goodman, the former royal editor for the News of the World, and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who worked for the paper, are still the only people to have gone to jail for phone hacking. For years, News International insisted that they were also the only people guilty of any wrongdoing.

Senior editors and executives have long said that they only became aware of more widespread phone hacking in 2008, when soccer union chief Gordon Taylor sued the News of the World. Some executives, such as James Murdoch, have gone further, saying they only gained knowledge of a widespread problem in 2010. (That claim has, of course, been strenuously disputed.)

However, the Independent reports that Metropolitan Police officers investigating Goodman and Mulcaire in 2006 told News International executives -- including Rebekah Brooks, then the editor of The Sun and the editor of the News of the World during the Milly Dowler scandal -- that there was strong circumstantial evidence, found in a cache of documents, that linked other people to phone hacking.

Moreover, the paper says that Tom Crone, the company's legal manager, got in touch with executives from News International and told them specifically that Brooks was informed of this development.

If the claims prove to be true, they could cause a heap of trouble for a wide number of people. Brooks has already been arrested over the hacking scandal, and Crone has never mentioned any pre-2008 knowledge he may have had of criminal behavior beyond Goodman and Mulcaire. The peril for James Murdoch is less clear. He is not mentioned in the Independent's report. Nevertheless, he is scheduled to appear before Parliament sometime in the next couple of months, where it is quite possible he will be grilled about the claims.