Murdoch issues ‘unreserved apology’ after bruising Commons interrogation

By Ian Dunt

James Murdoch issued an "unreserved apology" for the use of private investigators against MPs today, during a damaging appearance in front of a Commons committee.

While MPs on the culture, media and sport committee failed to deliver a knockout blow to the News International boss, Mr Murdoch was subject to a bruising two-and-a-half hour session in which he was compared to a "mafia boss".

The dramatic highlight came when Labour MP and phone-hacking campaigner Tom Watson finished off a forensic series of questions by comparing News International to a mafia family which intimidates its enemies into silence.

"You must be the first mafia boss in history that didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise," Mr Watson ended, prompting gasps in the committee room.

At that point Mr Murdoch told Mr Watson the comment was "inappropriate" and appealed to the chairman to intervene, but in a sign of the level of exasperation with News International chair John Whittingdale refused to do so, simply asking Mr Watson if he had any more questions.

Mr Murdoch said the whole company had been humbled by the phone-hacking scandal during a performance which alternated between apologetic and guarded.

"What I'm trying to do is learn from the events," he told MPs.

"I think we're all humbled by it. We're trying to improve the business, improve the structure and leadership, to make sure these things don't happen again because it's something I am very sorry about."

Committee member Louise Mensch later asked Mr Murdoch about reports that News International had authorised private investigators to track Mr Watson. Mr Murdoch replied that he had no knowledge of the authorisation but was deeply sorry it had happened.

"I apologise unreservedly for that. It's not something I would condone," he said.

Mr Murdoch's main difficulties came in his account of a 2008 meeting with former editor Colin Myler and former legal boss Tom Crone, both of whom questioned his previous testimony to the committee.

That meeting saw the two men convince him to settle a case with football boss Gordon Taylor for £500,000, due to the discovery of an email – now known as the 'for Neville' email – which revealed that phone-hacking was widespread at the News of the World.

Mr Murdoch argued that despite being told of the email, he had not seen it and it was not explained that it proved that phone-hacking was being conducted by more than one reporter.

MPs reacted incredulously to that suggestion, especially given that Mr Crone was only authorised to allow payments of up to £10,000.

Several questioners expressed disbelief that Mr Murdoch had allowed Mr Crone to offer half a million pounds after a 15-minute meeting without asking about the evidence which was leading him to do so.

"I find it incredible, absolutely incredible, that you didn't want to have a look at that. How can that be a course of action a self-respecting CEO would take?" committee member Phillip Davies said.

"It may not be the mafia, but it's not Management Today."

Mr Murdoch effectively turned on Mr Myler and Mr Crone, accusing them of bringing him incomplete information and, in the latter's case, setting private investigators on the lawyers of alleged phone-hacking victims and campaigners.

That may have been a revenge attack for the pair's insistence that they had shown Mr Murdoch the 'for Neville' email in 2008.

In a statement issued this evening, Mr Crone accused Mr Murdoch of being "disingenuous" in his evidence to the committee.

He said: "It is regrettable, but I can perfectly understand why James Murdoch felt the need to discredit Colin Myler and myself.

"The simple truth is that he was told by us in 2008 about the damning email and what it meant in terms of wider News of the World involvement.

"It seems he now accepts he was told of the email, of the fact that it contained transcripts of voicemail interceptions and that those interceptions were authorised by the News of the World.

"Perhaps Mr Murdoch could explain who he thought was doing the authorising at the News of the World? At best, his evidence on this matter was disingenuous."