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LONDON – In what could amount to a “smoking gun” in the phone-hacking scandal, James Murdoch has been forced to admit he was sent a damning email detailing the extent of phone-hacking at News International.
He has previously denied that he had any knowledge of concerns that hacking went further in the organization that he ran from 2007.
Murdoch, whose credibility is likely to take a massive knock from the latest development, now says he remained unaware of the email contents because he did not read the full email.
The News Corp deputy COO said Tuesday that new information has come to light showing that he had received an email from News of The World editor Colin Myler detailing concerns about phone-hacking, a fact that until now he has denied.
But he insisted that he had not read the full email, and so remained ignorant of its contents – as well their implications.
“It now appears that Mr Myler sent an email to me on Saturday afternoon, June 2008,” Murdoch said in a letter to the Culture Media and Sport Committee that was published Tuesday.
“Given the timing of my response, just over two minutes after Mr Myler had sent his email to me, and the fact that I typically received emails on my Blackberry on weekends, I am confident that I did not review the full email chain at the time or afterward.”
Although Murdoch apologized to MPs for the late stage at which the email has come to light – it was part of an ongoing trawl through thousands of documents by News Corp’s Management Standards Committee – he struck an unrepentant note when it came to the central admission.
“I only became aware of this email on Wednesday 7 December 2011, when it was passed to me by the MSC. Hence it was not available to me prior to my testimony before your committee and I could not have disclosed it earlier.”
Murdoch went on to say that he stood by his earlier testimony in July and November when he told the committee he was unaware of any other criminal activity at the newspaper, beyond that which had already been legally dealt with.
“I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my past testimony that I was not aware of evidence that either pointed to widespread wrongdoing or indicated that further investigation was necessary.
Whether, in the face of the disclosures in the email, that position can hold, remains to be seen.
News Corp’s management standards committee has released the full text of the email, which consists of a note from News of The World editor Colin Myler, telling Murdoch that the situation relating to payments to phone-hacking victim Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballer’s Association, was “as bad as we had feared.”
The second email in the chain is to Myler from Tom Crone, the News of The World in-house lawyer, who outlines immense concern about the possibility that other phone-hacking victims could also take action after the Gordon Taylor case was settled.
“But there is a further nightmare scenario in this which is that several of those voicemails … were taken from [the Professional Footballer’s Association in-house lawyer] Joanne Armstrong’s phone,” Crone wrote.
“We can also assume that she will have seen this evidence and is waiting to see how the Taylor case concludes before initiating her own claim.”
A final email in the sequence is from Julian Pike, an external legal counsel at Farrer & Co acting for News International, to Tom Crone.
Pike advises that News International has to settle the Taylor case because Taylor “wants to demonstrate what happened to him is/was rife throughout the organization. He wants to correct the paper telling Parliamentary inquiries that this [phone-hacking] was not happening when it was.”
The consequences for James Murdoch’s latest admission are not clear, but it is fair to say that his reputation has taken another knock. If he had read the email detailing significant internal and external legal advice, the entire scandal may not have unfolded.
If the News Corp deputy COO receives significant criticism from the Parliamentary Committee, as now seems possible, it will be difficult for BSkyB’s board to continue to support him as their non-executive chairman and his chances of succeeding his father as News Corp CEO will seem like a very distant possibility.
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