I was 'shielded and misinformed' about phone hacking, says Murdoch

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Rupert Murdoch admitted yesterday that there was a "cover-up" at News International of phone hacking at the now defunct News of the World.

In his second day of testimony at the Leveson Inquiry, the global head of News Corp claimed he had been "shielded and misinformed" about the extent of criminal wrongdoing at the Sunday tabloid.

The chairman and chief executive said that revelations about hacking had been hidden by a "clever lawyer" and "one or two very strong characters" who prevented others from revealing what was going on to News International's (NI) senior executives.

At the time of the alleged cover-up, Rebekah Brooks was NI's chief executive, and his son James, the executive chairman.

Robert Jay QC, the inquiry's counsel, said there had been a "consistent theme" of hiding evidence involving the police and lawyers NI appointed to initially investigate the prevalence of phone hacking at the NOTW.

Last night, NI's former legal manager, Tom Crone, claiming that Mr Murdoch evidence "can only refer to me," branded Mr Murdoch's assertion of a cover-up "a shameful lie".

Mr Crone said it was also a lie that he had misinformed senior executives about what was going on and that he had forbade people from reporting to Mr Murdoch and Ms Brooks.

Commenting on the closure of the NOTW, Mr Murdoch said: "I'll say it succinctly: I panicked, but I'm glad I did. And I'm sorry I didn't close it years before" He also took the opportunity to rail against a number of his critics. As well as directly criticising then Chairman Les Hinton's appointment of Colin Myler as editor of the NOTW after the departure of Andy Coulson, Mr Murdoch accused Andrew Neil, the former editor of The Sunday Times, of "spreading lies" about him.

He said his son James was "inexperienced" when he first arrived at News International, and described a statement by the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre that his editorial policy was driven by commercial interests as "unethical".

During questioning, Mr Murdoch was shown a letter sent to NI by Max Mosley, who had been the subject of a NOTW exposé involving prostitutes.

A High Court judge, Mr Justice Eady, said it was remarkable that the NOTW was not concerned that the reporter who had written the story, Neville Thurlbeck, had sent a letter warning the women to speak out about the session with Mr Mosley or face exposure.

Although claiming not to have seen the letter or Mr Justice Eady's comments, Mr Murdoch said he was not shocked, and claimed this wasn't really blackmail, it was just a journalist trying to do a deal with a prostitute.