November 10, 2011 5:52 pm

MPs attack James Murdoch over hacking email

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Fighting to preserve his reputation, James Murdoch had to fend off accusations of dishonesty, racketeering and incompetence from UK parliamentarians on Thursday.

The heir apparent to the News Corp throne had been summoned before MPs after two former executives of the scandal-hit News of the World accused him of misleading a parliamentary committee last July. In a bruising two and a half hour session, MPs accused him of laxity, incompetence and – in one extreme case – running a mafia-style operation.

The allegations centred on whether in June 2008 Mr Murdoch had been told about or shown an email that proved News International, the newspaper’s parent company of which he was chairman, was wrong to claim phone hacking was an isolated wrongdoing and the work of only one News of the World journalist.

At the time, Mr Murdoch agreed to settle a court case with a phone hacking victim for £425,000 ($680,000) after the two executives, Tom Crone, legal director of the News of the World, and Colin Myler, its editor, told him evidence had emerged showing the practice was widespread. They had obtained a senior external lawyer’s opinion affirming this.

While Mr Murdoch told MPs in July he had not seen the evidence nor understood its significance, Mr Crone and Mr Myler contradicted him. Under heavy questioning by MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee on Thursday, he said he had not misled their committee but pointed the finger at the two men who, he said, had been “economical” in their evidence.

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Tom Watson, the most prominent critic of News Corp on the committee, called Mr Murdoch “the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal organisation”, an accusation the NI chairman called “inappropriate”.

He remained adamant he had not been shown the critical document and said it was “offensive” to suggest there had been a culture of “omerta” at NI to disguise wrongdoing there.

NI has given unreserved apologies to some victims and closed the News of the World. More than 16 people have been arrested over phone hacking.

Two Conservative MPs cast doubt on Mr Murdoch’s management competence, saying his apparent lack of interest in a huge confidential settlement with Gordon Taylor, a hacking victim, seemed “absolutely incredible”. Damian Collins said Mr Murdoch’s approach “may not be the Mafia, but it is not exactly Management Today, not out of a management textbook”.

Philip Davies said he could not believe Mr Murdoch would take so little interest in legal advice which, in 2008, led to a £425,000 settlement with Mr Taylor. A QC’s opinion said there was very strong evidence of a culture of illegality at the News of the World.

Mr Murdoch said he had not seen that opinion, prepared before he was briefed by Mr Crone and Mr Myler.

Mr Davies said he was certain the chief operating officer of Asda, where he himself previously worked, would never have allowed such a settlement without being sure of the legal reasons for doing so. But Mr Murdoch defended himself by saying that News Corp had a reputation for being a devolved organisation. He said the News of the World was a small part of the overall organisation he was responsible for. 

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