Murdoch hit by foam pie at 'humbling' British hearing

19th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A protester hit Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie Tuesday as the media mogul testified to British lawmakers on the phone-hacking scandal, in a bizarre finale to what he called the "most humble day of my life."

The 80-year-old News Corporation chief's Chinese-born wife Wendi Deng leaped up and slapped the assailant, who was dragged off by police after the attack during a parliamentary committee hearing quizzing Murdoch and his son James.

The Guardian newspaper and Sky News named the attacker as a comedian called Jonnie Marbles. In a Twitter message shortly before the incident, he said: "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat."

There was no confirmation of his identity as Scotland Yard had no immediate comment.

The hearing resumed 10 minutes later, with Murdoch apologising to the victims of phone hacking by the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid but denying ultimate responsibility for the scandal.

Appearing frail and at times stumbling to a halt in his testimony, he had begun by saying: "I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life."

The scandal has rocked Murdoch's global media empire, sparked the resignation of two of Britain's top police chiefs, and even placed Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure.

Murdoch said it was "not an excuse" but that with a company of 53,000 staff to oversee he could not be held fully responsible for failing to uncover the scandal.

Asked whether "ultimately you are responsible for this whole fiasco?", Murdoch tersely replied: "No".

When pressed over who he blamed, Murdoch said: "The people that I trusted to run it (his media empire) and then maybe the people they trusted."

But he said he was "absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case two weeks ago," referring to a murdered teenager whose phone was allegedly hacked by the News of the World.

Murdoch was also asked about claims the newspaper targeted the voicemails of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, but replied: "We have seen no evidence of that at all and as far as we know the FBI haven't either."

At times James Murdoch, the chairman of the British newspaper operation News International, tried to step in when his father faltered on a question but was several times slapped down by lawmakers.

"I would like to say just how sorry I am and how sorry we are to particularly the victims of illegal voice mail interceptions and to their families," the 38-year-old Murdoch said.

He admitted however that News International had paid the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator jailed in 2007 when the hacking at the paper was first exposed.

Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as News International chief executive on Friday and edited the paper when Dowler's messages were allegedly hacked, was due to testify to the committee later.

The Murdochs initially refused to appear before the committee but relented after they were formally summoned.

They appeared shortly after Cameron, who has faced pressure over his own close friendships with a number of Murdoch aides including Brooks, cut short a trip to Africa so he could return to address parliament on Wednesday.

"This is a big problem but we are a big country," Cameron said after meeting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Lagos.

In a further tragic twist, British police were investigating the unexplained death of whistleblower Sean Hoare, a former reporter at the newspaper who first implicated Cameron's ex-spokesman Andy Coulson in the scandal.

Dozens of people queued up to get into the committee hearing for the appearance of the two Murdochs and Brooks, until recently the three most powerful people in the British media.

Lawmakers also heard evidence from outgoing Scotland Yard chief Paul Stephenson, who quit on Sunday amid questions over the force's links with Neil Wallis, deputy editor at the News of the World when Coulson edited the paper.

Stephenson admitted that 10 members of the Metropolitan Police press office had worked at News International.

Both Coulson, who left Downing Street in January, and Wallis have since been arrested and bailed on suspicion of phone hacking.

Brooks was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of hacking and bribing police.

The initial police investigation into the Sunday tabloid resulted in the jailing of the paper's former royal editor Clive Goodman and Mulcaire. It was reopened in January 2011.

© 2011 AFP

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