Queues form to witness Murdoch circus

19th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

It was the biggest show in town, and queues formed hours early outside the London parliamentary building where media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is set to be grilled by lawmakers.

Around 40 members of the public were queueing up outside Portcullis House, a modern office block across the road from the Houses of Parliament, where Murdoch was due to face questions from the Culture, Media and Sport committee, a scrutiny panel made up of MPs from parliament's lower House of Commons.

Murdoch, the Australian-born chairman and chief executive of his News Corporation global media empire, was due to appear in the Wilson Room at 2:30pm (1330 GMT) on Tuesday.

Murdoch's car was mobbed by photographers as it arrived at the building and then sped off again. It was not clear if he had managed to get in another way.

He will appear alongside his son James, the chairman of News International, the corporation's British newspaper publishing arm which closed the News of the World tabloid in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

Max Beckham, 21, a student from London, was at the front of the public queue for the committee hearings after being the first to arrive at 6:30am (0530 GMT).

"I'm looking forward to seeing Rupert Murdoch -- he's the one at the top so to have him under the spotlight is important," he told AFP.

"I don't think a lot is going to come out of it though -- he's a professional, he knows what he's doing. But I want to be here for the atmosphere and because it's a historic occasion."

Armed policemen stood guard outside Portcullis House, where reporters also queued for the first come, first served places.

Two overspill rooms with a video link to the evidence session were set up for those who could not fit in the Wilson Room.

The Murdochs were to be followed by Rebekah Brooks, who quit Friday as News International's chief executive. She was arrested Sunday on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption and bailed until October.

Andy Thompson, 40, managing director of Canadian theatre company The Virtual Stage, said he was on a working holiday to London to see West End shows but decided to attend the hearing after friends said it was open to the public.

"This is the best show in town this afternoon," he said.

"How often do you get a chance to sit in a room with the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks while they get grilled by MPs? It's a completely historic day to be in London.

Tom Miller, 22, a law student from London who was also in the queue, said: "I think it's the first time such a shadow has been cast over police and the press simultaneously.

"I find it reassuring that powerful figures such as the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks can be held to account for their actions. There is a lot of momentum behind this now and the truth will come out, maybe not now but in a few months' time."

He said the arrest of Brooks was "inevitably going to have an impact on what she can say" before the committee.

"She could even pull the card of saying nothing, though if she did that there would be uproar," he said.

Norman Fowler, a former Conservative minister under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and now a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, said he expected a "good performance" from Murdoch.

Fowler was part of a Lord committee that travelled to New York in 2007 to interview Murdoch.

"I think he will give a good performance and a relaxed performance and I think it would be a great mistake to underestimate the man," he said.

But he said the committee hearing on Tuesday was "only a step and the most important step is the public inquiry to follow."

© 2011 AFP

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