Oliver Wright: Negligence – or effectively orchestrating a cover-up

The advicefrom Michael Silverleaf QC makes damning reading for Murdoch
  • @oliver_wright

In just over a week's time, James Murdoch will return to Parliament to answer questions from MPs investigating the phone-hacking scandal. After these revelations it will be a deeply uncomfortable experience for him.

The last time Mr Murdoch made the short trip from News International's Wapping HQ to Westminster he and his father were in fighting form. No, he insisted, he was not aware of the "for Neville" email – a transcript of hacked voicemail messages of the footballers' union boss Gordon Taylor – when he authorised the company to pay out nearly half a million pounds to settle the case. Yesterday the advice his company sought from "distinguished outside counsel" Michael Silverleaf QC, was published in full. And it makes damning reading.

Worst of all, it says: "There is overwhelming evidence of the involvement of a number of senior journalists in illegal inquiries... there is a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used in order to produce stories for publication."

The MPs will want to know why, if Mr Murdoch relied on Mr Silverleaf's opinion to settle the case, he apparently had no idea of the bombshell it contained. The best interpretation is that he was utterly negligent in his role as head of News International. That he was prepared to go before MPs four months ago and refer to Mr Silverleaf's opinion – without still having read it. The other interpretation is more damming. That is – as Mr Crone and Mr Myler said – they did make Mr Murdoch aware of Mr Silverleaf's opinion and he did nothing. That, by his silence, he effectively orchestrated a cover-up of illegal activity.

The first interpretation raises serious questions about whether James is suitable to hold a senior role in News Corp or BSkyB. But if the committee concludes the latter even Rupert will be hard pressed to save his skin.