James Murdoch faces police probe on hacking

22nd 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, who is the chairman of the British newspaper division of his father Rupert's media empire, has been challenged over evidence he gave denying he knew that hacking was widespread at the now-shuttered News of the World.

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 committee on Tuesday, James Murdoch, denied all knowledge of an email suggesting the problem went beyond one rogue reporter before authorising a payout to a victim.

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

On Friday, Tom Watson, a 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".

"This morning 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 said Murdoch had "failed to report a crime to the police" and also "bought the silence of Gordon Taylor", chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.

Taylor received a reported £700,000 (now 790,000 euros, $1.14 billion) after he brought a damages claim against the 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 testimony, 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, 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.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed Whittingdale's remarks, but said: "In the end, this is going to be a matter for the police."

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 Taylor's payment.

"We would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the... litigation was mistaken," they said.

In a further development, Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant wrote to non-executive directors of News Corporation, the US-based parent company of News International, asking them to suspend both Rupert and James Murdoch.

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 "in the end, 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.

© 2011 AFP

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