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James Murdoch Denies Knowing About Internal Evidence of Widespread Phone Hacking at News Of the World

James Murdoch
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

The News Corp. deputy COO admits that News International had not looked closely enough at evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

LONDON – James Murdoch admitted that “I was made aware” that there was evidence that there had been voicemail intercepts at the News of the World, but said he had not been given any further documents suggesting that the matter had been widespread.

He admitted to the House of Commons that News International had been over-aggressive about defending its behavior and had not looked closely enough at allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

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At various times the company moved into an aggressive defense too quickly … a more forensic approach would have been something we could have done and I could have directed the company to do quickly. In hindsight, I look back at that and I think is was one turning point where the company could have moved differently. The company at its senior levels should have had a good look at the evidence.”

Speaking at the House of Commons where he has been summoned a second time to give evidence, he insisted that he was not given sight of any of the legal opinions that suggested that phone-hacking had gone beyond more than one reporter. He also said he believed he had been given “incomplete information,” about the extent of suspicions of illegal behavior that existed within the company.

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Murdoch told the committee Thursday that at a meeting in 2008 he was given “sufficient information to authorize an increase in the settlement payment” to former head of the Professional Footballer’s Association Gordon Taylor – whose phone the paper had admitted hacking. But he went on to claim: “I was given no more than that.”

Asked about the legal opinion handed to News International in May by Michael Silverleaf QC, who highlighted “a culture” of illegal behavior at News International in 2008, he said he had not been given the right information.

“It’s clear to me in 2008 that the information I received was incomplete and its also clear that in 2009 upon allegations that the full extent of the knowledge was not made clear to me and that’s something I am very sorry for."

Murdoch said that former News of The World editor Colin Myler had been brought in by former News International boss Les Hinton to “clean up” the issue and move the company forward.

“If he [Myler] had known – and that’s still an if – I should think he should have told me those things.”

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Murdoch looked tense but focused when he sat down in front of the House of Commons Parliamentary Culture Committee Thursday beginning the fight of his professional life.

“We are all humbled by it to make sure these things don’t happen again, and I’m very sorry about that,” he said.

Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son – the deputy COO of News Corp. - entered Portcullis House, part of the House of Commons, from a back entrance in order to avoid the mingling press. Security at the Commons was also increased after the potentially catastrophic collapse in protection systems allowed a witness to attack Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie, when he and James appeared before the committee in June.

James Murdoch is fighting for his professional reputation Thursday as he attempts to answer an increasingly long list of questions about his knowledge of illegal behavior at the News of The World.

“He’s between a rock and a hard place,” media commentator Steve Hewlett earlier told the BBC, saying Murdoch’s choices are admitting incompetence or knowledge of illegality.

“If he admits knowing about the wrongdoing, he’s toast, and if he doesn’t then it is incompetence and he’s, well, toast,” Hewlett said.

Since Murdoch and his father last appeared before the House of Commons culture committee in July, just days after the closure of the News of The World, his situation has become progressively more difficult.

The release of documents from News International’s own lawyers shows that despite the subsequent years of denials, as early as May 2008, external legal counsel had advised News International lawyers that there was “a culture” of illegal behavior at News International.

News International has also made the hugely embarrassing admission that it authorized covert surveillance on lawyers acting for phone-hacking victims.

The news that former Rebekah Brooks received a $2.7 million severance pay-off and continues to have a chauffeur-driven car and plush London office courtesy of News International – will also make for uncomfortable questioning.