James Murdoch under fire in UK hacking scandal

22nd July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British lawmakers demanded answers from James Murdoch on Friday after executives who used to work for his father's newspapers accused him of misleading parliament over the phone-hacking scandal.

James Murdoch, the heir apparent of Rupert Murdoch's media empire and chairman of its British newspaper division, News International, is being challenged over evidence he gave to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

During a tense appearance alongside his father, the 38-year-old denied knowing about an email suggesting hacking was widespread at the now-defunct News of the World before authorising a payout to a victim in 2008.

But Colin Myler, the former News of the World editor, and News International's ex-legal manager, Tom Crone, issued a statement late Thursday disputing this.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee, told AFP on Friday that James Murdoch now had questions to answer.

"Clearly the statement by Tom Crone and Colin Myler does conflict with what James Murdoch told the committee," Whittingdale said.

The Conservative lawmaker said Murdoch had already agreed to address in writing some questions raised at the hearing, adding: "We shall certainly be asking him to address the conflict."

Another lawmaker on the committee, Labour's Tom Watson, demanded more action, however, telling the BBC that he would refer the claim that Murdoch gave misleading evidence to the police.

He said it was "the most significant moment of two years of investigation".

The development brings the phone-hacking scandal, which this month prompted the resignation of two of Rupert Murdoch's top aides and the closure of the News of the World, closer to home for the media mogul than it has ever been.

It puts the spotlight back on the Murdochs, a day after the row appeared to be spreading beyond his newspapers when it emerged the police had asked a regulator for files exposing the use of private investigators by other titles.

The crisis has also put pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron over his decision to hire a former News of the World editor as his media chief, and his revelation that he discussed Murdoch's bid to take full control of pay-TV giant BSkyB with the group's executives.

In his evidence to the committee on Tuesday, James Murdoch said he was "not aware" of an email suggesting phone hacking at the News of the World went wider than one rogue reporter before authorising a payout to a victim in 2008.

But Myler, who lost his job when the News of the World closed, and Crone, who resigned last week, said they had informed him of the email before he authorised the settlement.

"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.

News International paid Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, a reported £700,000 (now 790,000 euros, $1.14 billion) after he brought a damages claim against the News of the World.

James Murdoch said in a statement in response: "I stand by my testimony to the select committee."

On Thursday British police widened their inquiry to other media groups after the Information Commissioner's Office said police had requested files from a 2006 inquiry into the use of private investigators by newspapers.

"The information was handed over to the police three months ago. It was at their request," a spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office told AFP.

Scotland Yard said it would not discuss specific lines of inquiry.

A spokesman for the Daily Mail, one of the newspapers named in the 2006 inquiry, told AFP that Associated Newspapers, the paper's publisher, "banned the use of such agents" after the report.

The News of the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in 2007 for phone hacking but despite mounting evidence the practice was widespread, London police did not reopen their investigation until January.

Police have arrested and released 10 people over the affair since then.

They include Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor who quit in 2007 and months later become Cameron's communications chief. Coulson resigned from Cameron's Downing Street office in January, but denies any wrongdoing.

© 2011 AFP

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