Police study James Murdoch evidence on hacking

23rd July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A British lawmaker referred James Murdoch to police Friday over claims of misleading parliament on the phone-hacking scandal as Prime Minister David Cameron said the media boss had "questions to answer".

James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, the British newspaper division of his father Rupert's global media empire, has been challenged over evidence he gave to lawmakers on Tuesday.

The development put the spotlight back on the Murdochs just as the scandal seemed to be spreading to other British newspapers, having already dragged in the police and politicians, even embroiling Cameron himself.

During a tense appearance with his father before parliament's media scrutiny committee, James Murdoch said that when authorising an out-of-court settlement to a voicemail hacking victim, he was unaware of an email that suggested knowledge of hacking at the now-shuttered News of the World went wider than one rogue reporter.

But Colin Myler, the last editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, the former News International legal manager, broke ranks on Thursday to say James Murdoch's recollection of events in 2008 was "mistaken".

In a statement late Thursday, Myler, who lost his job when the News of the World closed earlier this month, and Crone, who resigned last week, said they had informed James Murdoch of the email before he authorised the payment to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA).

On Friday, Tom Watson, an opposition Labour lawmaker who sits on the committee and has been a long-time critic of News International, said their challenge to the 38-year-old was "the most significant moment of two years of investigation".

"I am going to refer the matter to Sue Akers, the head of Operation Weeting (the phone hacking investigation) at the Metropolitan Police," Watson told the BBC.

He claimed Murdoch had "failed to report a crime to the police" and also "bought the silence" of Taylor.

The PFA boss received a reported £700,000 ($1.14 million, 790,000 euros) after he brought a damages claim against News of the World.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed it had received a letter from Watson. "It is being considered," the spokesman told AFP.

James Murdoch has denied giving misleading evidence, saying: "I stand by my testimony to the select committee."

But Cameron -- who has himself been under pressure over his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his media chief, later arrested over allegations of phone hacking and bribing police -- agreed he must explain himself.

"Clearly James Murdoch has got questions to answer in parliament and I am sure that he will do that. And clearly News International has got some big issues to deal with and a mess to clear up," the prime minister said.

Conservative lawmaker John Whittingdale, who chairs the media committee, said he would be seeking clarification from James Murdoch.

"We shall certainly be asking him to address the conflict" between his account and those of Crone and Myler, Whittingdale told AFP.

James Murdoch may also come under pressure at next week's board meeting of BSkyB, where he is the chairman, British press reports said.

News Corp. was forced to abandon a bid for full control of the lucrative pay-TV giant earlier this month because of the phone-hacking scandal.

Cameron said the row at News International had to be dealt with "by the management of that company", adding that "the management of a company must be an issue for the shareholders of that company".

In another twist, the Law Society lawyers' body said some of its members had been told by police that their phones may have been hacked, "perhaps in an attempt to undermine their legal claims" against the News of the World.

A reporter and a private investigator at the tabloid were jailed in 2007 for phone hacking but despite mounting evidence the practice was widespread, London police did not reopen their investigation until January.

Since then they have arrested and released 10 people, including Coulson, who quit as the tabloid's editor in 2007 and later worked for Cameron.

Meanwhile a letter from Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell, the head of the civil service, showed Coulson was part-way through the government's highest level of security checks when he quit as Downing Street communications chief in January this year.

Also police are to investigate claims of phone hacking in Scotland, which has its own legal system.

They are also investigating whether witnesses lied during a perjury trial last year.

Coulson, the Scottish News of the World editor and a reporter were among those who gave evidence.

© 2011 AFP

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