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James Murdoch: Man of many fabrications and few friends

Brian Cathcart

James Murdoch may not be facing jail, but he will struggle to argue his way out of this corner.

MP Tom Watson said the new material was devastating and he was not exaggerating. Difficult though it may be to believe, documents released by the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee are at least as damaging to News International management as the revelation that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voice mail had been hacked. That news prompted disgrace and resignations: now we are looking at possible criminal charges at senior levels.

Assuming that these documents hold up to scrutiny, a whole raft of executives—not journalists or editors, but well above that level—are likely to be questioned by police investigating the possibility of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Arrest in some cases must be likely.

James Murdoch may not be facing jail, but he will struggle to argue his way out of this corner. When he appeared before MPs he chose a strategy of bluster and blaming others. Predictably, those others have bitten back and Murdoch must be finished as a company executive in the United Kingdom. It is difficult to believe that a man so compromised could ever hold a global role at News Corp either.

Rarely has the old line about the cover-up being worse than the original crime been so spectacularly borne out. And rarely has a parliamentary select committee unearthed such a bundle of sensations.

Most damaging of all is the implication that Clive Goodman, the News of the World‘s royal reporter jailed for hacking in 2007, was encouraged or induced by News International executives to withhold the full truth from police and the courts. The Goodman letter makes clear that he knew in 2007 what we all now know—that hacking was widespread at the newspaper. Second to that in importance is the evidence suggesting Goodman was paid nearly £250-million by the company after his release from jail—a far higher sum than the company previously claimed and a sum so high that it suggests that News International bought the silence of employees.

As for Murdoch, he is haunted now by 10 words he uttered to MPs: “No, I was not aware of that at the time.”

He was telling Watson he was unaware of the famous “for Neville” [Thurlbeck, the newspaper’s chief reporter] email at the time he authorised a half-million-plus payment to hacking victim Gordon Taylor in 2008 to withdraw his legal case and remain silent. That email offered firm evidence that Goodman had not been the only reporter involved in illegal hacking. There were two people in the room with Murdoch that day in 2008.

Both have now asserted firmly that not only was he aware of the email, but it was shown to him there and then. They are Tom Crone, former legal chief of News Group Newspapers, and Colin Myler, former News of the World editor.

Murdoch has been asked back to the media committee to clarify his evidence. That will be a humiliation so dreadful that he will be looking for any way he can to avoid it.—

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