Murdoch's 'most humble day'

Tuesday 19 July 2011 17:22

It was "the most humble day" of Rupert Murdoch's career - even before he was pelted with a custard pie.

The 80-year-old media mogul was forced to admit he had been let down by people he trusted and to face a barrage of questions from MPs about the phone-hacking scandal which has rocked his empire.

But one person who did not let him down was his third wife Wendi Deng, who sprang to his defence when a comedian managed to evade tight security and attack him.

Miss Deng jumped up and slapped the assailant, earning praise from one of her husband's most vociferous critics Tom Watson MP, who told him: "Your wife has a very good left hook."

The bizarre episode came towards the end of a momentous hearing in which Mr Murdoch and his son James were called to account by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Casualties at Mr Murdoch's company have mounted as top aides fell on their swords in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, which also saw the closure of the News of the World.

But Mr Murdoch declared he would not be following them.

Asked by Tory MP Louise Mensch whether he would resign, he replied: "No, because I feel that the people I trusted, I don't know at what level, let me down and I think they behaved disgracefully, betrayed the company and me and it's for them to pay.

"I think that frankly I'm the best person to clear this up."

During the hearing, Mr Murdoch admitted mistakes were made over the phone-hacking scandal as he repeatedly apologised and declared: "This is the most humble day of my life."

His son James, News Corp's deputy chief operating officer, opened the hearing by saying how sorry he and his father were to the victims in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

"It is a matter of great regret of mine, my father's and everyone at News Corporation. These actions do not live up to the standards our company aspires to everywhere around the world," he said.

"It is our determination both to put things right, make sure these things don't happen again, and to be the company that I know that we have always aspired to be."

James Murdoch told the committee the company acted "swiftly" as soon as it became aware of fresh evidence over phone hacking following a series of civil actions in 2010, particularly the case involving actress Sienna Miller.

It became apparent that more people than originally believed were victims of the practice, he added.

He also said a letter written to News International by a law firm used by the Royal Family made the company believe phone hacking was a "matter of the past".

Harbottle & Lewis was hired by the company to defend a claim by News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman for unfair dismissal against his former employers.

The firm trawled through a large number of emails from the accounts of six figures at the newspaper including Goodman - who was jailed over phone hacking in 2007 - and the tabloid's former editor Andy Coulson.

Mr Murdoch Jnr said it then wrote to News International to tell the company nothing had come to light that contradicted the theory that the hacking had been restricted to a rogue reporter working with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

Mr Murdoch said the letter helped explain why it had taken a long time for new information to come out.

But Harbottle & Lewis said tonight that News International would not allow it to breach client confidentiality so it can "respond to any inaccurate statements or contentions" after Mr Murdoch Jnr's claim.

The firm said: "News International declined that request, and so we are still unable to respond in any detail as to our advice or the scope of our instructions in 2007, which is a matter of great regret."

The political fallout continued as the Conservative Party revealed that hacking suspect Neil Wallis may have provided "informal advice" to David Cameron's communications chief Andy Coulson before the general election.

A spokesman insisted Mr Wallis was never employed by the Conservative Party.

The spokesman said: "There have been some questions about whether the Conservative Party employed Neil Wallis.

"We have double-checked our records and are able to confirm that neither Neil Wallis nor his company has ever been contracted by the Conservative Party, nor has the Conservative Party made payments to either of them.

"It has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. We are currently finding out the exact nature of any advice.

"We can confirm that apart from Andy Coulson, neither David Cameron nor any senior member of the campaign team were aware of this until this week."

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and his assistant commissioner John Yates, who both appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee today, resigned after being linked to Mr Wallis, who was deputy to Mr Coulson during his time in charge at the News of the World.

Appearing on her own after the Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks, who resigned last week as News International chief executive, said it was only after she saw papers lodged in the civil damages case brought by Miss Miller last year that she understood how serious the situation was.

She said: "We had been told by people at News of the World at the time - they consistently denied any of these allegations in various internal investigations."

When asked whether she had been lied to by senior employees, Ms Brooks declined to answer because of the criminal investigation.

Source: PA

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