News of the World reporter slams ex-employer

By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD | September 30, 2011 | 11:40 AM EDT

FILE - This is a April 6, 2011 file photo of former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck. A British employment tribunal filing shows that Thurlbeck is claiming unfair dismissal from his former publisher, Rupert Murdoch's News International. News International said Wednesday Sept. 28, 2011 it "will vigorously contest the case," filed on Sept. 13. Thurlbeck is expected to claim he was sacked for whistleblowing in the phone-hacking scandal that brought down his tabloid. (AP Photo/Yui Mok/PA, File) UNITED KINGDOM OUT

LONDON (AP) — A News of the World reporter implicated in Britain's phone hacking scandal has slammed Rupert Murdoch's News International for his sacking from the tabloid, insisting he was innocent and unfairly dismissed.

Neville Thurlbeck's comments Friday mark his first public defense of his role as chief reporter at the newspaper, which folded after 168 years under the weight of the scandal.

"I took no part in the matter which has led to my dismissal after 21 years of service," Thurlbeck, 49, said in a statement. "I say this most emphatically and with certainty and confidence that the allegation which led to my dismissal will eventually be shown to be false."

Thurlbeck's name has long been linked to the scandal that enveloped Britain's press, and threatened Murdoch's media empire.

He was arrested in April on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemail messages and released on bail.

In the meantime, he has filed an unfair dismissal claim against News International at a London employment tribunal.

In Friday's statement, Thurlbeck accused News International of withholding the reason for his dismissal for almost a month, saying it was Scotland Yard who eventually informed him why he had been fired.

He said legal reasons prevent him from disclosing the reason for the firing, but warned that the truth will come out, and those responsible for the action which led to his dismissal "will eventually be revealed."

"I await that time with patience but with a determination to fight my case to the end," said Thurlbeck.

Asked to comment on Thurlbeck's case Friday, News International said it is not able to comment on circumstances regarding any individual, but continues to cooperate fully with "investigations into phone hacking and police payments to ensure that those responsible for criminal acts are brought to justice."

Murdoch decided to close News of the World in July as allegations piled up that it systematically intercepted the private voice mails of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

News International has maintained that eavesdropping at the tabloid was limited to a single rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, along with the private investigator who was helping him break into voicemails of people working for the royal family.

But an email uncovered during legal proceedings seemed to cast doubt on that claim because it contained a transcript of an illegally obtained conversation, drawn up by a junior reporter and marked "for Neville" — an apparent reference to Thurlbeck.

Thurlbeck said Friday he became compelled to speak out after News International started giving "off the record" briefings about him to the press.

"There is much I could have said publicly to the detriment of News International but so far, have chosen not to do so," he warned, urging the company to "retain a dignified stance" until the issues can be examined by the employment tribunal.

Thurlbeck is expected to claim he was fired for whistleblowing in the phone-hacking scandal that brought down his tabloid. A preliminary hearing was due to take place on Friday, but Thurlbeck withdrew because he said the "issues to be determined by the employment tribunal will require key individuals within the News Group Newspapers being cross-examined."

The British news agency Press Association reported that Ian Edmondson — another former journalist at the tabloid who was arrested in April with Thurlbeck — has lodged a similar claim for unfair dismissal. This was confirmed by another person familiar with the matter on condition of anonymity.