Murdoch pins blame on former lieutenants

Angry denials as News Corp chief tells MPs that his accusers gave 'misleading' accounts

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The Independent Online

James Murdoch yesterday tried to escape being put in the frame for his company's cover-up of phone hacking – but at the cost of his corporate credibility, having to paint a picture of himself as an out-of-touch executive chairman who knew little and lacked any curiosity about the criminal culture that has so far 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 that showed the illegal practice was widespread. But within a few hours both men had flatly contradicted his account of what he had known about phone-hacking.

Mr Murdoch, appearing for the second time before the House of Commons select committee investigating phone hacking, tried to exonerate himself from the charge that he knew hacking was endemic inside the tabloid, by telling MPs that NI's long-serving legal head, Tom Crone, and the NOTW's last editor, Colin Myler, had misled him.

He also denied knowledge that computers were hacked into despite, as The Independent revealed recently, NOTW's QC Michael Silverleaf saying that the paper had admitted liability in relation to all the allegations made by actress Sienna Miller. Among the claims she made was that her Hotmail e-mail account was hacked into.

He repeatedly said he was not made aware of the contents of a key email that led to an unprecedented damages payment for hacking – and nor had he asked to see his company's own legal advice that concluded there was "a culture of illegal information access in order to produce stories for publication".

Asked if he thought Mr Myler and Mr Crone had misled the committee, Mr Murdoch said that what they told MPs this year "was inconsistent and not right. I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it."

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."

The anticipated hard-line reply from Mr Crone was dispatched by him at 6pm last night. He said it was "regrettable" that James 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."

Mr Myler also challenged Mr Murdoch's evidence last night, 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."

The committee are said to be divided about whether or not they now need to recall both Mr Crone and Mr Myler. Mr Whittingdale is said to want them to get on with writing their report based on what they have so far heard.

Mr Murdoch repeatedly stated he was never given detailed evidence, including a lengthy written opinion from his company counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, which said there had been "overwhelming evidence" of a criminal phone-hacking culture in the NOTW newsroom.

Despite claiming he had not seen this document, Mr Murdoch nevertheless authorised the £725,000 out-of-court settlement with footballers' union boss Gordon Taylor in June 2008. He said he had only been given "sufficient information" by Mr Crone and Mr Myler to approve the payment. He said while he had been made aware of the existence of the so-called "for Neville" email which carried hacked voicemail transcripts of Mr Taylor, neither of the executives had mentioned to him that it proved hacking went beyond a single "rogue" reporter.

Murdochs 'are like the mafia'

MP Tom Watson accused James Murdoch of being a "mafia boss" in an acerbic exchange. Suggesting an 'omerta policy – "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 general criminality" – was operated at News International, he asked if Mr Murdoch agreed.

"Absolutely not, I frankly think that's offensive and it's not true," the media boss protested. To which Mr Watson riposted: "You must be the first Mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise."

Lewis Smith

The blame game: Who's pointing the finger

James Murdoch on Tom Crone, former head lawyer at News International

Yesterday Asked whether Mr Crone had shown him the crucial "for Neville" email on 10 June 2008, which indicated a wider-spread history of hacking at News International, Mr Murdoch replied: "It was not shown to me, nor was it discussed with me its other feature – that it might indicate wider-spread knowledge or wider-spread activities of phone-hacking."

Tom Crone on James Murdoch

Yesterday "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."

6 November On Mr Murdoch's understanding of the "for Neville" email: "I can... tell you that I explained that this document meant there was wider News of the World involvement [in phone hacking]."

James Murdoch on Colin Myler, former editor of News of the World

Yesterday "Mr Myler was brought in... to clean up the issue... If he had known... that there was wider-spread criminality, if there was evidence or sufficient suspicion of that, I should think he should have told me those things."

Colin Myler on James Murdoch

Yesterday "I stand by my account of the meeting with James Murdoch on 10 June 2008."

6 November Asked about the meeting on 10 June 2008: "Mr Murdoch was the chief executive of the company. He is experienced. I am experienced in what I do. Mr Crone is experienced as a legal manager. I think everybody perfectly understood the seriousness and the significance of what we were discussing."

James Murdoch on Colin Myler and Tom Crone

Yesterday "I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it."

James Murdoch on Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive

Yesterday On how she was in charge of the £1m phone-hacking settlement with PR guru Max Clifford in 2009: "I was not involved with that.... Mrs Brooks did discuss the settlement... It was discussed with me in general terms but not in an authorisation perspective."

Rebekah Brooks on Tom Crone

19 July Asked about Tom Crone's departure from the NOTW: "We didn't sack Tom Crone... Tom was predominantly a News of the World lawyer... The rest of the company and the rest of the titles appointed new lawyers and there wasn't a job for Tom once we closed the NOTW, and he left."

Rebekah Brooks on the Murdochs

19 July "It is an ultimate regret that the speed at which we have found out, and tried to find out, the bottom of this investigation has been too slow. James and Rupert accepted that earlier."