Two former News of the World journalists who were jailed for hacking the phones of politicians and celebrities have been given the go ahead to sue Rupert Murdoch’s publishing company for unfair dismissal.
They can seek compensation for the loss of their jobs in 2011 following a decision by the president of the employment tribunals (England and Wales) to dismiss an application by News Group Newspapers to have their cases struck out.
Neville Thurlbeck, the paper’s former chief reporter, and two former news editors, James Weatherup and Ian Edmonson, had applied for an unfair dismissal hearing three years ago, but proceedings were delayed until the hacking trial, which also involved their former editor Rebekah Brooks, was over.
In a preliminary hearing, Judge Brian Doyle directed the case to be referred from the London East employment tribunal to the regional tribunal.
A third application for a hearing for Edmondson, who was jailed for eight months for hacking offences in November, was adjourned until he is released from prison. Thurlbeck and Weatherup, who had pleaded guilty to hacking, have been free since August after completing the required sentences handed out at the end of the trial which saw Brooks cleared of all offences.
Weatherup and Thurlbeck both lost their jobs when the News of the World closed in July 2011 and, like other staff, were told they were in line for redundancy payments, but less than two month later they were both sacked for “alleged gross misconduct”.
Thurlbeck was arrested in March 2011 on suspicion of intercepting voicemails, while Weatherup was detained the following month. They were not charged until July 2012. Doyle ruled that it appeared that News Group Newspapers did not follow the due process of law.
“Reduced to their essentials, the claimants’ complaints of unfair dismissal are that, prior to their summary dismissals on 2 September 2011, they had not been subject to any allegations by their employer that they had committed acts of gross misconduct.
“What they did, they assert, was part of the culture of the organisation.
“They had been anticipating dismissal by reason of redundancy, with a suitable redundancy package.”
In his judgment, he added that both dismissals appeared to rely upon the management and standards committee (MSC) set up by the parent company News Corp in New York to investigate hacking.
Doyle found that Thurlbeck and Weatherup were not provided with reasons for their dismissal. “It carried out no investigation into the matter and did not follow any procedure before dismissing the duo.
“Whatever the evidence of wrongdoing the MSC might have had in relation to the claimants, that evidence was not shared with the respondent at the time of its decision to dismiss, nor subsequently with the claimants,” Doyle found.
News Group Newspapers had argued that the claims were “vexatious” and an “abuse of process”.
A spokesman for the company said: “Due to active legal proceedings, it is not appropriate to make any comments on this case.”