James Murdoch steps down from News International

By Ian Dunt

James Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of News International this afternoon, as the phone-hacking scandal claimed its most senior scalp yet.

Rupert Murdoch's son said he would focus instead on "international television business" for News Corp, News International's parent company.

"With the successful launch of the Sun on Sunday and new business practices in place across all titles, News International is now in a strong position," he said.

"As deputy chief operating officer, I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation's international television businesses and other key initiatives across the company."

The resignation comes amid worsening allegations against the Murdoch empire.

Yesterday, deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers laid out a series of allegations to the Leveson inquiry about bribes from journalists to public officials, including police officers.

She said a "culture of illegal payments" existed at the Murdoch-owned Sun.

Some have claimed the Sun on Sunday was rushed into its first print run last weekend in a bid to head off the criticism News International would face once the new allegations were made at Leveson.

Phone-hacking campaigners were unimpressed by the announcement.

"While his departure from this latest post may have some symbolical meaning, it has very little practical impact," a spokesperson for Hacked Off said.

"We still await a full, and credible account of the extent of his knowledge and engagement in the cover up of hacking. We don’t recognise this as a milestone or as evidence of creating a cleaner sheet at News International."

Shadow media secretary Harriet Harman said News International had "stained" the traditions of the British press.

"After the shocking evidence given this week at the Leveson Inquiry James Murdoch had no option but to go," she said.

"Never again must we allow any individual or organisation to acquire such a concentration of power when it comes to media ownership."

Mr Murdoch was under intense pressure to resign following allegations he was aware of extensive phone hacking at News of the World since June 7th 2008, when he received an email to that effect from editor Colin Myler.

The email chain appeared to contradict his insistence that he had not been fully briefed on the extent of the practise when he appeared in front of the culture, media and sport select committee.

He was also under pressure from investors in the US, who increasingly want the Murdoch clan to sacrifice their British print empire in a bid to safeguard their far more profitable television interests across the Atlantic.

Mr Murdoch's departure as a result of phone-hacking follows those of Rebekah Brookes and Andy Coulson, who were forced to step down in the face of widespread criticism of their behaviour last year.