Ian Burrell: This 'don' no longer looks like the News Corp heir

 

James Murdoch made a trade-off yesterday. Dressed in a sober suit and black tie, a poppy respectfully pinned in his button hole, he stuck to his carefully-rehearsed line that he was kept in ignorance of phone-hacking by his senior advisers.

He managed to keep a check on his famously explosive temper in the face of calculated provocation by MPs –including being likened to a Don Corleone figure by Tom Watson. In the absence of further evidence, Murdoch may well not face the ignominy of being questioned by Scotland Yard.

But the price he paid was to appear like an incompetent business manager with no grasp of the critical events that were unfolding around him.

"It may not be the mafia but it doesn't sound like Management Today," mocked Philip Davies, a Tory MP who once worked for Asda.

It was hard to look on James Murdoch as he gave evidence and think of him as a future chairman or chief executive of the News Corporation empire. BSkyB shareholders, who vote on his position as chairman at an AGM this month, cannot have been impressed.

As he sought to blame the mishandling of the hacking scandal on two of his advisers – the legal manager Tom Crone and the last editor of the News of the World Colin Myler – Murdoch himself looked increasingly negligent. His contempt for Crone shone through in the assertion that the legal boss was only permitted to authorise company payments of £10,000, a statement which undermined Murdoch's determined claim that he had agreed to Crone's suggestion that a six-figure settlement be made without bothering to study the advice of News International's counsel.

That advice would have told Mr Murdoch of a wider culture of phone hacking in 2008 but he insists he never read it. MPs seemed unconvinced. Paul Farrelly MP asked him why the payment was being made to Gordon Taylor, the head of the footballers' union, when the phone-hacking scandal concerned the royal editor. "Did you not say: 'Well, he's not a royal'?" asked Farrelly.

Murdoch continued to plead ignorance, accusing Myler over the failure of internal investigations and Crone for using private detectives to trail lawyers bringing actions against News International. "It's appalling, it's something I would never condone," he said. He may yet avoid the fate of Rebekah Brooks in being grilled by police. But his image as a businessman has been irrevocably damaged.

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