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LONDON – An email chain showing that James Murdoch had been informed about multiple instances of phone-hacking at the News of The World was deleted by a member of News International’s IT department last January, less than two weeks before the police began a formal investigation, it emerged Wednesday.
A second copy of the email was discovered on Nov. 18 2011 – a week before James Murdoch faced a critical re-election vote as BSkyB chairman. But lawyers acting for News Corp.’s management standards committee said its significance had not been recognized at the time.
It was not formally disclosed until Dec. 7, by which time James Murdoch had already been re-elected, albeit with a significant disapproval rating from the non-News Corp. controlled shareholders of BSkyB.
News Corp.’s management standards committee has written to the House of Commons Parliamentary Committee investigating phone-hacking saying that the emails from former News of The World editor Colin Myler to James Murdoch and Murdoch’s reply were both deleted in January 2011.
The initial deletion, just weeks before the police began an renewed investigation into phone-hacking, meant that emails did not form part of the evidence gathered by Operation Weeting, the criminal investigation into phone-hacking which has so far arrested 16 former News International staff. A separate investigation into police bribery has seen six people arrested.
The email chain included an email from former News of The World editor Colin Myler and legal advice from barrister Julian Pike, which describes a “nightmare scenario” in regards to the cost of paying off phone-hacking victims.
Last December when the email chain came to light James Murdoch confirmed that he had received and replied to the email, but had not read its full extent.
He maintained that he was not aware of widespread wrongdoing and was not part of a cover-up.
News Corp.’s lawyers said that the emails to and from Murdoch and Myler were deleted as part of an “email stabilization and modernization program.”
Chris Bryant MP, a member of the House of Commons Committee, told the Independent newspaper that had the information come to light before the key BSkyB AGM vote, James Murdoch may not have been re-elected.
“Had this information been available at the time of the AGM, I am sure more shareholders would have said ‘sorry James Murdoch, but thank-you very much and goodbye’ “.
In a letter to the Committee, James Murdoch maintained he had not been part of a cover-up or criminal conspiracy.
“I wish to confirm again I was not aware of evidence of widespread wrongdoing and did not seek to conceal it, as I have made clear in my previous testimony to the Committee.”
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