Mr James Murdoch
Giving evidence to MPs, Mr Murdoch, who closed the News of the World in July, said he could not “rule out” closing The Sun or any other publication if it was found to have broken the law. Shares in News
Corp, News International’s parent company, fell in value after Mr Murdoch gave evidence, though they rallied later in the day.
Mr Murdoch was recalled by the Culture, Media and Sport committee to answer further questions about phone hacking at the News of the World after his previous evidence was contradicted by two former employees.
During an abrasive two-and-a-half-hour interrogation, Mr Murdoch was likened to a “mafia boss” by Tom Watson MP, who suggested he presided over a “criminal empire” with a culture of silence at its heart.
At that point Mr Murdoch appealed to the chairman, John Whittingdale, to rein in Mr Watson, complaining that his comments were “inappropriate”.
Mr Murdoch had been recalled after Tom Crone, the former head of legal affairs at the News of the World, and Colin Myler, its last editor, suggested he had misled MPs when he said he did not know until recently that phone hacking went beyond one rogue reporter.
Mr Crone and Mr Myler claimed they told Mr Murdoch at a meeting in June 2008 about an email which proved that more than one reporter was involved.
Mr Murdoch refused to budge from his previous position, saying he had not been shown the email at that time or been made aware of the fact that it implicated others.
Are you a mafia boss?
Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has played a key role in uncovering the phone hacking scandal, was once again the fulcrum of the proceedings.
But after failing to extract a confession from the executive chairman of News International to being party to a cover-up, he resorted to the verbal equivalent of the custard pie attack on Rupert Murdoch that made James’s last appearance so memorable.
“You are familiar with the mafia?” Mr Watson asked. “Yes, Mr Watson,” came the reply. “Do you know the term 'omerta’?” he went on, referring to the mafia’s secret code of silence.
Mr Murdoch did not, so the MP defined it for him as: “A group of people who are bound together by secrecy who together pursue their group’s business objectives with no regard for the law, using intimidation, corruption and criminality.”
He added: “Would you agree with me that this is an accurate description of News International in the UK?”
Mr Murdoch called the comparison “offensive and not true”, and said he had been unaware of the extent of phone hacking because the executives he trusted failed to inform him. Mr Watson retorted: “You must be the only mafia boss in history who did not know he was running a criminal empire.” Mr Murdoch replied: “Mr Watson, please. That’s inappropriate. Mr chairman…?”
More Sherlock Holmes than Watson
In a week when News International has had to apologise for hiring private eyes to follow the Duke of Cambridge and others, Mr Watson said he had been doing a little detective work of his own.
After grumbling to Mr Murdoch that “it’s clear you’re not going to answer any of my detailed questions”, he produced a surprise piece of evidence, with the dramatic flourish of Sherlock Holmes.
“I wasn’t going to do this,” he said, “but I need to tell you that I have met Neville Thurlbeck [the former chief reporter at the News of the World] and although it was meant to be in confidence I want to reveal to you what he said to me.”
It was Mr hurlbeck whose name was on the now notorious “For Neville” email sent by a junior reporter who had transcribed hacked voicemail messages of Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
The existence of the email proved that hacking went beyond Clive Goodman, the former royal editor jailed in 2007 together with Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator used by the News of the World to hack phones. It was this email that Mr Crone and Mr Myler said they had discussed with Mr Murdoch in 2008, when they sought his permission to pay Mr Taylor £700,000 to settle a civil case brought when he found out his phone had been hacked.
Mr Murdoch once again denied that he had been made aware in 2008 that the email drew other reporters into the scandal. But Mr Watson said Mr Thurlbeck had told him Tom Crone had come to see him after the 2008 meeting, and “[Crone] said he had shown [the email] to James Murdoch”. Mr Murdoch pointed out that Mr Crone’s evidence to the committee was that he had not shown the email to Mr Murdoch.
'My staff misled you’
Paul Farrelly MP suggested to Mr Murdoch that: “If Tom Crone and Colin Myler are telling the truth, then you’re not telling the truth, and if you’re telling the truth, then they are not.”
Mr Murdoch said his former staff had given “confusing and muddled” evidence … I believe their testimony was misleading.” Mr Murdoch also said he had recently been made aware that Mr Watson had been placed under surveillance by the News of the World and said “I apologise unreservedly”.
Mr Watson said he had spoken to another former employee of the News of the World who told him “the diktat went out: dig up as much information as you can on the members of the committee”.
Mr Murdoch said he had “no idea who might have said that”.
Watson is mad, Brooks told Blair
Mr Watson said the same source had told him Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of NI, had developed “an absolute pathological dislike” of Mr Watson, and regarded him as the main threat to the company. The source told him: “She was saying to Tony Blair 'you’ve got to call this man off. He’s mad, don’t you realise he’s mad?” Mr Murdoch said he had “no discussions” with Mrs Brooks on those lines.
A last-minute bombshell
As the session appeared to be running out of steam, Steve Rotheram, a Labour MP and proud Liverpudlian, forced Mr Murdoch into a dramatic admission.
After gaining an apology from him for The Sun’s notorious coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, when the newspaper printed what the MP termed “outrageous lies” about the behaviour of Liverpool fans after 96 of their number died, he dropped a bombshell of his own. “Are you aware that the words 'The Sun’ appear in the evidence file of the convicted private investigator Glenn Mulcaire?”
Mr Murdoch said he was not aware.
Mr Rotheram asked him: “If this particular publication is implicated in phone hacking and it is revealed that The Sun does appear in the Mulcaire file, will you close that paper like you did with the News of the World?” Mr Murdoch said it was “important not to prejudge the outcome of investigations” but admitted: “I don’t think we can rule out any corporate reaction to behaviour of wrongdoing. That will be a decision taken at the time given whatever is out there.”
*Last night Mr Crone released a statement denying any suggestion that he had lied to the committee and again claimed that it is Mr Murdoch who is misleading the MPs.
He said: “The simple truth is that he was told by us in 2008 about the damning email and what it meant in terms of wider News of the World involvement.”
He added: “At best, his evidence on this matter was disingenuous.”