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LONDON – Former Wall Street Journal publisher and News International CEO Les Hinton has sought to distance himself from the phone-hacking crisis that has engulfed News Corp., telling Parliament he was “not personally involved” in the internal investigation that happened on his watch and “some distance away” from the situation that broke this year.
The news came as it emerged that James Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy COO who succeeded Hinton as the head of News International, will return to give evidence to Parliament on Nov. 10.
Hinton said he could not fully comment on what had happened at The News Of The World during the phone-hacking scandal as the affair was “still unraveling.”
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee from New York via a video-link that occasionally broke down, Hinton told the influential committee of MPS that “events have evolved quite significantly since the time I departed (…) I was working for another company in another country when new details emerged.”
Hinton told the committee that he had not been interviewed by the police over the phone-hacking scandal – which has already seen 16 former News International staff arrested and charged with criminal activities.
The scandal has also forced the resignations of Britain’s top two policemen after it emerged that they had not fully investigated the fact that London’s Metropolitan Police had taken illegal payments from News of The World staff.
Hinton also said he had not been questioned by Viet Dinh, News Corp.’s board member in charge of corporate governance over what he knew about phone-hacking.
Hinton, who has worked for News Corporation for three decades and is widely regarded as one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest confidantes, was forced to step down from the post of chairman of Dow Jones earlier this year over the scandal, which so far has seen 16 former staff at the News of The World arrested.
Asked what role he played in the matters that lead to the downfall of The News of The World during the period he was in charge, Hinton said “this whole affair is still unraveling. It’s a perfectly valid question and I look forward to being able to answer that question but I can’t answer it now.”
Hinton, who was the executive in charge of News International during the period that more than four thousand people are now known to be possible victims of phone-hacking, said he was “not aware” of allegations that the practice was widespread when he appeared before the committee in 2007.
In 2009 when he was recalled, he told the committee he still did not believe that there was evidence that hacking was widespread, despite knowing of a series of serious allegations to the contrary from former reporter Clive Goodman.
In a letter to Hinton in 2007 – which only emerged earlier this year – Goodman had claimed that phone-hacking was not only widespread at the paper, but also sanctioned by the former News of The World editor Andy Coulson and other News International bosses. Hinton later sanctioned a payment to Clive Goodman of $410,000 in a bid to keep those allegations from emerging in open court.
But he told the Committee on Monday that the letter was “not evidence” that Goodman’s allegations were correct and that an internal News International inquiry had uncovered no evidence to suggest Goodman was correct.
“In my mind there were two issues. I made the decision on dismissing Mr Goodman that he would receive a year’s salary. The process that kicked off after that [Goodman’s appeal and accusatory letter] – of course it surprised me. And I guess I was annoyed, but in the end I acted on the view that we would most likely or probably lose [at a tribunal] and rather than go down that route it would be best for the company to get ahead and get behind this and that is why I agreed to settle.”
Hinton said the closure of the News of The World in July had been “a terrible moment” and said he had resigned from Dow Jones because of the extent of the scandal and its public perception.
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