While giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry at the High Court in London today, James Murdoch – son of Rupert Murdoch – said he resigned his chairmanship of BSkyB, to avoid becoming a “lightning rod” for the ongoing phone hacking scandal.
The Leveson inquiry, set up to investigate press ethics in the UK in the wake of that scandal, is presided over by Lord Justice Leveson (hence its name). From November 14, 2011 to the present day the inquiry has heard from various high profile celebrities and public figures such as Hugh Grant, J.K. Rowling, Sienna Miller and Steve Coogan, as well as journalists, editors, private individuals and the police.
The British public and the Establishment are still reeling from last year’s revelations that murdered British teenager, Milly Dowler’s, mobile voicemail was accessed by private investigators hired by the now defunct News of the World newspaper. Since then, there has been something of a reversal of fortune for James Murdoch.
No longer executive chairman of News International, the UK arm of News Corp, or BSkyB which he quit this month, he is however still deputy chief operating officer of News Corp and remains a director at the company.Under intense questioning at the hearing today, Mr Murdoch denied he knew the full extent of emails sent to him by then, NOTW editor, Colin Myler (appointed after former editor Andy Coulson resigned in 2007) and head of legal affairs, Tom Crone, during negotiations with one high profile victim of phone hacking – former football union head – Gordon Taylor. Those negotiations led to News International paying Mr Taylor a settlement of £ 350, 000.
Mr Murdoch said Myler and Crone gave him “assurances” that phone hacking was not endemic at News International, and went no further than Clive Goodman – NOTW’s former Royal Editor – jailed in January 2007 for phone hacking. This version of events is disputed by both Myler and Crone, both of whom claim Mr Murdoch has been “disingenuous” in his recollections.
In direct contradiction of Myler and Crone’s statements at a parliamentary select committee in 2011 , Mr Murdoch denies ever seeing the “for Neville” email. This is the name given to the infamous email sent by a junior NOTW reporter to former private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire. It contained details of the illegally obtained transcript of Gordon Taylor’s voicemail messages.
Throughout the hearing Mr Murdoch was keen to distance himself from key events along the phone hacking timeline. Telling the inquiry that he was first told phone hacking claims were part of a smear attack and had been adequately investigated ‘in house’, Mr Murdoch said neither Myler or Crone gave him “sufficient information” to go and “turn over a whole lot of stones.” Mr Murdoch did however admit that the subsequently disproved ‘Max Mosley Nazi sex-orgy’ story published by the NOTW in 2008, “shouldn’t have been run.”
Mr Murdoch was also questioned in the hearing about conversations and meetings he had with the, then, leader of the opposition David Cameron in the run up to the May 2010 elections in the UK, and after Cameron was elected Prime Minister. Mr Murdoch told the inquiry he had a “tiny, side conversation”about News Corp’s BSkyB bid with Cameron, at a dinner party held at the home of former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks.
This apparent blurring of the lines between politics, media, ethics, police enforcement and impartiality – in light of the failed $ 12 billion News Corp bid to buy 61 percent of BSkyB (News Corp still owns 39 %) – has seen the resignations of police chiefs, journalists, Andy Coulson (director of communications for David Cameron’s administration), Rebekah Brooks and numerous others, since the scandal exploded with the Dowler revelations on July 4, 2011.
Only yesterday, head of Sky News, John Ryler, told the Leveson inquiry that Sky broke the law at least twice when reporters were authorized to illegally hack email accounts. OFCOM, the UK’s broadcasting regulator is currently investigating Sky.
Mr Murdoch’s 81 year old father, Rupert, long-standing chairman of News Corp, is due to appear before the Leveson inquiry tomorrow.
Footage of James Murdoch at the hearing today