Rupert Murdoch admits News of the World phone-hacking cover-up

In a second day of testimony before the Leveson Inquiry, Rupert Murdoch admitted that “one or two strong characters” were responsible for a cover-up of the phone hacking scandal at News International.

The News Corp chairman and chief executive explained to the court that he was “misinformed” and “shielded” from events that were taking place at the paper. Murdoch pointed the finger at “a clever lawyer”, who forbade people from reporting to News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks or chairman James Murdoch.

Despite the acknowledgement of the cover-up of the “cancer” that was prevalent in News International, Murdoch stressed to the court that the senior management of News Corp were not involved. He said:

“There was no attempt, at my level, or several levels below me to cover it up. We set up inquiry after inquiry. We employed legal firm after legal firm and perhaps we relied too much on the conclusions of the police.”

He added that when presented with information relating to a Guardian article in 2009 detailing unethical practices at the News of the World, the police said that the article was wrong. He said: “We chose to take word of police over guardian. We rested on that until beginning of 2011.”

After explaining that Colin Myler was hired as the editor of News of the World in 2007 to find out “what the hell was going on” in the newsroom, Murdoch admitted that he should have taken personal responsibility for ensuring that the brief was completed, and not delegated the duty to Les Hinton.

Murdoch also described his disbelief that law firm Harbottle and Lewis did not alert Rebekah Brooks that the problem was far more widespread than one rogue reporter: “I cannot understand a law firm reading that, and not ringing the chief executive of a company and saying ‘hey, you’ve got some really big problems’.”

The media mogul told the court that he had failed with now defunct News of the World. He said: “I am guilty of not having paid enough attention to News of the World, probably the whole time we owned it. It was an omission by me, and all I can do is apologise to a lot of people.”

Describing himself as “greatly distressed” by the closure of the News of the World, Murdoch admitted that the news paper and the journalistic practices operating within it were an “aberration”.

When asked by Jay why he closed the tabloid newspaper, rather than toughing it out, Murdoch told the court he “panicked”, but said he was glad he took that decision.

Murdoch explained “when the Milly Dowler situation was first given huge publicity, all the newspapers took it as the chance to make a really national scandal. You could feel the blast coming in the window almost.”

He added: “I’m sorry I didn’t close it years before and put a Sunday Sun in,” and described the “whole business” as “a serious blot on my reputation.”

Murdoch told the court he felt in hindsight should have had a one-on-one with Clive Goodman to establish if he was telling the truth that phone hacking was more widespread in the paper. Murdoch told the court he should have “thrown all the damn lawyers out” and cross examined Goodman. He added that if he decided Goodman was telling the truth he “would have torn the place apart, and we wouldn’t be here today.”

Turning to the controversial privacy case of ex-Formula One chief Max Mosley and Neville Thurlbeck’s blackmail of women involved in the case, Jay asked Murdoch if he really felt this kind of behaviour wasn’t something to worry about.

Murdoch replied: “A journalist doing a favour for someone, and someone doing a favour back is an every day occurrence.”

Leveson told Murdoch he considered that approach “somewhat disturbing,” asking the media proprietor to tell him if he believed this type of behaviour was seen as justifiable and acceptable common practice in the industry.

Murdoch replied: “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. This seems to go beyond that.”

Seeing an opportunity to challenge continual assurances that Murdoch did not have any inappropriate relationships with politicians, Jay suggested it was interesting that “you scratch my back” was a common attitude, but not one Murdoch held with regards to politicians.

Referring to the BSkyB bid which caused so much controversy earlier in the week, Murdoch told the court he had never met, nor dealt with Jeremy Hunt.

When asked if he and his son James had discussed the replacement of Vince Cable with Jeremy Hunt, Murdoch told the court he didn’t believe they did. Following Hunt’s appointment to the bid, Murdoch denied that James Murdoch had said “we’ve got someone better now,” but told the court “we couldn’t have had anyone worse”.

Asked by Jay if he believed the bid was derailed as a result of the revelations that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked, Murdoch said he was unsure if it was related to the “Milly Dowler misfortune” but that he did believe it was as a result of the hacking scandal.

The inquiry will continue on 7 May

Follow Index’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry @IndexLeveson

Hunt accused of giving News Corp special access over BSkyB bid.

In an explosive afternoon at the Leveson Inquiry, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was branded a “cheerleader” for the News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB.

A round of revelations from former News International chairman James Murdoch, detailing extensive emails between the media proprietor and News Corporation’s director of public affairs, Fréderic Michel, suggested Hunt was in close contact with News International during the time business secretary Vince Cable was considering the BSkyB bid.

The inquiry heard that Hunt had received “strong legal advice” against meeting with Murdoch, but one email suggested that the pair speak on the telephone at a later date. As the hearing continued through the afternoon, Robert Jay QC explored numerous emails describing communications between Michel and Hunt’s office and advisors.

Jay told Murdoch that the emails made it “clear that you were receiving information along the lines that the UK government as a whole would be supportive of News Corp”, but Murdoch replied that Hunt had made similar comments publically, and the emails were “not inappropriate”.

Murdoch said: “I think Mr Hunt had said personally he didn’t see any issues … there’s no special information in there.”

The court heard that Hunt had said he was “frustrated” at not being able to contact Murdoch. After exploring a number of emails, Jay proposed that as informal contact had been discouraged, Michel continued communications with Hunt’s office through back door methods:

Jay said: “Mr Hunt must have taken the advice that formal meetings were ok, that would not impugn the fairness of the process. Informal contact would be inappropriate and the way to avoid the appearance of that is to let that contact take place secretly via Michel.”

Despite the support being given to Murdoch and News Corporation by Hunt, he denied thinking the BSkyB deal was “in the bag”, stressing that he was “very worried” about the transaction and his concerns grew as the process continued.

The Leveson Inquiry today published the 163 pages of correspondence between Jeremy Hunt’s office and News Corp over the BSkyB takeover.

Hunt was handed responsibility for the bid in December 2010 after it was taken away from Vince Cable, and has repeatedly stressed that the bid was handled in a way which was “completely fair, impartial and above board”.

Pressure has begun to mount on Hunt to resign amid the allegations, and a number of bookmakers have stopped taking bets that he will be the next cabinet minister to leave the government. A source reportedly told the BBC that the politician was “not even considering resignation” and would present his own evidence to the inquiry within the coming days.

Murdoch was also probed on his relationships with other politicians, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. He admitted, for the first time, that in 2010 during a dinner at the home of Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, he discussed the BSkyB deal with Cameron, but Murdoch said he mentioned the dismissal of Cable during a “tiny conversation”.

The former chairman denied that his meetings with Cameron were to ascertain where he stood on issues such as regulation of press and TV, which would affect Mr Murdoch’s companies.

Murdoch also denied linking the political affiliation of a newspaper to a “commercial transaction like this”.

He added: “Nor would I expect that political support one way or another ever to translate into a minister behaving in an appropriate way, ever. I simply would not do business that way.”

James Murdoch resigned from News International in February 2012.

Rupert Murdoch will give evidence to the inquiry tomorrow, to deal with allegations that he was aware of allegations that phone hacking was more widespread than “rogue reporter” Clive Goodman.

Follow Index’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry @IndexLeveson

UK: Culture Secretary calls for ISPs to offer parental filtering option

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is to call on internet service providers to offer greater security to parents. In a speech at the Royal Television society tonight, Hunt will announce that the government will be looking at protection of children from harmful online content. The government, Hunt will say, would like to see parents have an “active choice”, with ISPs offering users a filtering option to households signing up to accounts.

Ofcom research suggests that just over 40 per cent of households with children currently use filtering software.