UK lawmakers likely to recall James Murdoch on hacking

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jul 29, 2011 9:04 AM

By Tim Castle

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers said on Friday it was likely News Corp's James Murdoch would be recalled to clarify details about evidence on phone hacking he gave to a parliamentary committee, following claims his testimony was "mistaken."

Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport (CMS)Committee has said it would be writing to Murdoch asking him for more details about evidence he gave earlier this month about phone-hacking allegations at the News of the World tabloid that has shaken his father Rupert's media empire.

The two Murdochs along with former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks appeared before the committee on July 19 when they were pressed about phone-hacking and payments to police by News of the World reporters.

"We are going to write to ask for further details on areas where evidence is disputed," said the committee's chairman John Whittingdale.

While the committee voted against immediately recalling Murdoch, chairman of British newspaper arm News International, Whittingdale said it was likely he would be recalled at a later date over claims some of his original testimony was wrong.

Tom Crone, News International's former top legal officer, and Colin Myler, editor of the News of the World until it was shut down earlier this month, have disputed some of James Murdoch's evidence.

Murdoch said he had not been in possession of all the facts when he approved a large payout to English soccer executive Gordon Taylor, one of the phone-hacking victims.

But in a statement, Myler and Crone said they had told him of an email from a News of the World reporter to "Neville," containing transcripts of hacked voicemails. Neville Thurlbeck was the paper's chief reporter when it published a story about Taylor.

Whittingdale said the statement had "raised questions over some of the evidence that we have received" and they would also be contacting Crone and Myler.

ORAL EVIDENCE

"If they come up with statements which are quite plainly different to those given to the committee by James Murdoch, we will want to hear James Murdoch's response to that, and chances are that may well involve oral evidence again as well," he said.

News International's then lawyers Harbottle and Lewis, whose actions have also come in for criticism, would also be asked for details of their work.

Allegations of hacking at News Corp's British newspapers, in particular reports that journalists accessed the voicemails of murder victims, have triggered a judicial inquiry and calls from some politicians to cap News Corp's media ownership.

It has already led to News Corp dropping its $12 billion bid for the 61 percent of pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB it does not own and put James Murdoch's position in the spotlight.

The board of BSkyB, which reported a better than expected 16 percent jump in full-year revenue to almost 6.6 billion pounds on Friday, voted unanimously on Thursday to keep James Murdoch as its chairman.

However some politicians are keen to keep up the pressure on News Corp and James Murdoch in particular.

"It's my view that Murdoch, Crone and Myler should have been invited today," said CMS committee member, Tom Watson.

"I understand from the decision we took that when we receive the evidence, no later than August 11, we are meeting the week after that to decide whether to invite them at that point."

Rupert Murdoch described his appearance before the committee as the "most humble day of my life" although the 80-year-old's testimony was interrupted when a British protester threw a plate of foam at him during the hearing.

The attacker, Jonathan May-Bowles, a comedian who uses the name Jonnie Marbles, pleaded guilty to causing harassment, alarm or distress on Friday.

The phone-hacking scandal has barely been out of the headlines since it erupted at the start of the month and has engulfed the British establishment.

Baroness Buscombe, the head of the newspaper watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, which has been heavily criticized for failing to address the issue, became the latest person to step down in the wake of the furor.

London's police chief Paul Stephenson and John Yates, Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officer, have already been forced to quit.

(Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison)