James Murdoch tried to escape blame yesterday for his company's cover-up of phone hacking – but at the cost of his corporate credibility. He was forced to depict himself as an out-of-touch executive chairman who knew and cared little about the criminal culture that has cost News International tens of millions of pounds and its parent company the £7.5bn takeover of BSkyB.
Mr Murdoch sought to blame his trusted legal adviser and the News of the World editor for failing to tell him about evidence showing that the illegal practice was widespread. But within hours of his ordeal in Parliament, both men flatly contradicted his account.
It was also claimed he had misled MPs by telling them he "didn't think" NI had admitted liability for computer or email hacking – despite NOTW barrister Michael Silverleaf admitting as much at a High Court hearing this summer.
Mr Murdoch was appearing for the second time before the House of Commons select committee investigating phone hacking. He told MPs that NI's long-serving legal head, Tom Crone, and the NOTW's last editor, Colin Myler, had misled him.
He repeatedly said he was not made aware of the contents of a key email that led to an unprecedented damages payment for hacking – nor had he asked to see his company's own legal advice that concluded there was "a culture of illegal information access to produce stories for publication".
The committee's new report on the culture inside the NOTW will now be a judgement on a vicious blame game that has been played out between Mr Murdoch and his key lieutenants. Last night John Whittingdale, the committee's chairman, admitted the choice was now who to believe. "It is plain that of the two accounts we've heard, one of them cannot be true."
Mr Crone's reply was dispatched at 6pm. He said it was "regrettable" that Mr Murdoch had "felt the need to discredit Colin Myler and myself. The simple truth is that he was told by us in 2008 about the damning email and what it meant in terms of wider NOTW involvement." He described Mr Murdoch's explanations as "disingenuous" and insisted he had not misled MPs. Mr Myler also challenged Mr Murdoch's evidence, saying: "I stand by my account of the meeting with James Murdoch on 10 June 2008. These issues are now the subject of a police investigation...I have every confidence that they will establish the truth."Reuse content