Ian Burrell: James Murdoch's Blackberry defence is hard to swallow


"Extremely telling", "a further nightmare scenario", "he wants this to hurt"; the email chain that found its way to James Murdoch on the afternoon of 7 June 2008 sounded more warning sirens than the East End in the blitz.

Yet the News International (NI) chief executive took barely two minutes to reply to the editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler. "No worries," he typed.

Yesterday it emerged that Mr Murdoch has apologised to a parliamentary committee saying that "it now appears" he was the recipient of this email – but that he had not read the critical information it contained. "Given the timing of my response, just over two minutes after Mr Myler had sent his email to me, and that I typically received emails on my BlackBerry on weekends, I am confident that I did not review the full email chain at the time or afterwards," he informed the Commons Culture Committee. Mr Murdoch repeated that he was not made "aware of evidence that either pointed to widespread wrongdoing or indicated that further investigation was necessary".

Simply scrolling down that 2008 email would have revealed as much. Linked emails from lawyers Tom Crone and Julian Pike set out the potential for corporate catastrophe at NI. Pike talked of Gordon Taylor's determination to show that hacking was "rife" in NI and to challenge the company's evidence to parliament. Crone provided detail about the crucial "For Neville" email – which Murdoch has denied being fully briefed on – and painted a "nightmare scenario" of hacking litigants beyond Taylor. There is no sign here that that Myler was trying to keep his boss in the dark.

In his appearances before MPs, a well-rehearsed James has risked his reputation as a competent executive by pleading ignorance of the events that took place around him. Here, he didn't read the email chain before meeting Myler in person three days later.

Is it credible that he couldn't be bothered to scroll down a message on the small screen of his BlackBerry? Certainly Murdoch has been consistent in his claims to have been ill-informed over hacking. But there is a line at the beginning of Myler's message, which Murdoch obviously does not deny reading, that suggests the pair had already held nervous discussions over the affair. "Unfortunately," wrote the editor, "it's as bad as we feared." No worries indeed!