Cameron turns on Murdoch over allegation he lied to parliament

Centre of the storm: James and Rupert Murdoch at the select committee. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Centre of the storm: James and Rupert Murdoch at the select committee. Photo:

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron has issued a stern rebuke to the Murdoch dynasty, as Westminster responded to claims the pair lied during their select committee hearing.

Tom Crone, former News International legal officer, and Colin Myler, News of the World editor until it was closed down, raised questions last night about the accuracy of James Murdoch's testimony to the culture, media and sport select committee.

David Cameron said Mr Murdoch "has got questions to answer in parliament".


The statement prompted Labour MP Chris Bryant to call for non-executives at News Corp to suspend Rupert and James Murdoch on the basis that they are unable to exercise due diligence or proper corporate control.

Fellow Labour MP and phone-hacking campaigner Tom Watson referred the matter to the Met.

"This is a significant new development, I’m going to formally bring it to Sue Ackers attention and ask her to investigate and she must take the decision as to whether, and she will probably have to do it on legal advice, but she would certainly want to have a more detailed version of events from Crone and Myler I would have thought," he said.

The statement suggests that senior figures in the organisation are disappointed with the way they have been treated and wary of being turned into scapegoats for the scandal.

Some observers suggest similar motives may be affecting legal firm Harbottle & Lewis, which became something of a whipping boy for the Murdochs when they gave evidence on Tuesday.

Mr Crone and Mr Myler said they had told Mr Murdoch of an email to Neville Thurlbeck, chief reporter, which contained transcripts of hacked voicemails.

Mr Thurlbeck was active at the newspaper when it published a story about football executive Gordon Taylor, who later won a substantial payout from the newspaper.

Speaking to the committee, Mr Murdoch said he was not in possession of all the facts when he signed off the payment.

"Did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?" Mr Watson asked Mr Murdoch at the committee hearing.
"No, I was not aware of that at the time," Mr Murdoch replied.

Mr Crone and Mr Myler's statement reads: "Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday's CMS [culture, media and sport] select committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.

"In fact, we did inform him of the 'for Neville' email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor's lawyers."

Mr Murdoch put out a statement saying: "I stand behind my testimony to the select committee."

Much of Mr Murdoch's explanation of events relies on the fact that he only learnt of the new evidence around phone-hacking in January this year, when the various civil cases started producing information which was eventually handed to police, triggering Operation Weeting.

Mr Murdoch will be keen to argue that he was unaware of information suggesting phone-hacking was systemic before this time because it would contradict the company's long-held line that that it was the work of a rogue reporter.

The suggestion that Mr Murdoch saw the full email would also encourage those who believe the pay-out was designed to stop new information coming out in court.

Committee chair John Whittingdale told Reuters: "I haven't seen the statement but if it is the case that Colin Myler and Tom Crone are in conflict on a serious issue then that is a matter we would want to obtain a response from James Murdoch on.

"James Murdoch has already said he will provide written evidence on other issues and we could ask for this to be clarified this way."

He later told SKy the email was a "critical piece of information".

 

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