JAMES Murdoch accused former News of the World editor Colin Myler and legal chief Tom Crone today of misleading MPs about what he knew about phone-hacking.
The News International boss said he “disputed vigorously” the version of events put forward by the company’s ex-employees.
The comments came as Mr Murdoch gave evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the scandal for the second time.
Mr Murdoch denied that he had known as long ago as 2008 that phone hacking had not been limited to a single reporter at the newspaper.
He rejected Mr Myler and Mr Crone’s suggestion that they had made him aware of the contents of the so-called “For Neville” email - indicating the wider extent of phone hacking at the paper - at a meeting in June that year.
Asked by Labour MP Tom Watson whether he had personally misled the committee in his previous evidence, Mr Murdoch said: “No, I did not.”
He added: “I believe this committee was given evidence by individuals either without full possession of the facts, or now it appears in the process of my own discovery... it was economical.”
Pressed on whether that meant Mr Myler and Mr Crone had misled the committee, Mr Murdoch replied: “Certainly in the evidence they gave to you in 2011 in regard to my own knowledge, I believe it was inconsistent and not right, and I dispute it vigorously.”
He added: “I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it.”
Mr Murdoch said the meeting with Mr Myler and Mr Crone had been to discuss increasing an offer to settle a legal claim brought by the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association Gordon Taylor.
“The meeting, which I remember quite well, was a short meeting, and I was given at that meeting sufficient information to authorise the increase of the settlement offers that had been made,” he said.
“But I was given no more than that.”
He said the “For Neville” email had been important for two reasons, the first of which was that it represented evidence that messages had been transcribed for the News of the World.
The second was that it named another journalist working for the newspaper.
“That second part, that importance, was not described to me in detail or at all,” Mr Murdoch said.
“It was not described as the For Neville email, and I want to be very clear. No documents were shown to me at that meeting or were given to me at that meeting.”
He also denied that he was shown advice from leading legal counsel that indicated the extent of phone hacking was greater than the sole reporter - royal editor Clive Goodman - who had been jailed.
Mr Murdoch said it was important to put the News of the World “in context” as a small part of the wider media empire.
But he said he regretted that the company mounted an “aggressive defence” following a critical report published by the committee in 2009, rather than taking a “forensic look” at the evidence.
“The company at the highest level should have had a good look at the evidence that was given to you in retrospect... and followed the trail wherever it led.”
Mr Murdoch confirmed that he had not been arrested by police investigating phone-hacking allegations.
He said he was given “incomplete” information in 2008 and 2009 about the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World.
He suggested that Mr Myler, who was brought in as editor in 2007 to investigate the scandal and clean up the paper, should have informed him of how widespread the practice was.
Mr Murdoch said the information he was given about the Gordon Taylor case in 2008 was “incomplete” and he was not fully briefed when further allegations were published the next year.
“The full extent of the knowledge within the business or the evidence within the business as well as with the Metropolitan Police was not made clear to me, and that is something that I am very sorry for,” he said.
Mr Murdoch told the MPs: “It’s important to remember that after the resignation of (former News of the World editor Andy) Coulson in 2007, (then News International chief executive Les) Hinton brought Mr Myler in as an outside person who had a responsibility and a remit to clean up the issue, investigate the issue and move the company and the newspaper forward in a way that made sure that these things couldn’t happen again.
“If he had known, which is an if, that there was wider-spread criminality, that there was evidence or sufficient suspicion of that, I think he should have told me of that.”
Mr Watson read from a note of a meeting in 2008 between Mr Myler and solicitor Julian Pike to discuss the allegations made by Mr Goodman, who was convicted of phone-hacking.
He quoted Mr Myler saying that Mr Goodman had “sprayed around horrid allegations”, adding: “James would say get rid of them, cut out cancer.”
Mr Murdoch said: “I think he was worried about raising these issues with me because I would have said get rid of them all and I would have said cut out the cancer - ie people who are suspected of wrongdoing we would pursue, we would hold accountable and that was the way that I would approach it.
“I think it speaks volumes and I think it is also why perhaps I was given a narrower set of facts than I might have liked at the June 10 meeting.”
Mr Murdoch acknowledged that he had been made aware of the existence of the “For Neville” email, although not its full contents, when they were discussing the settlement of Mr Taylor’s case.
“The so-called ‘For Neville’ email - now referred to as the ‘For Neville’ email but not then referred to as the ‘For Neville’ email - was mentioned to me as evidence that was important with respect of it being a transcript of a voicemail interception that came through, that proved it was on behalf of the News of the World,” he said.
“It was not shown to me, nor was it discussed with me its other feature - that it was ‘For Neville’, and that it might indicate wider-spread knowledge or wider-spread activities of phone hacking.”
Mr Watson said he had been informed by the News of the World’s former chief reporter that the “for Neville” email was shown to Mr Murdoch in 2008.
Neville Thurlbeck insisted that he had not seen the email, which contained a transcript of messages hacked from Mr Taylor’s voicemail, at that point, even though it was apparently addressed to him.
Mr Watson told Mr Murdoch: “I need to tell you I have met Neville Thurlbeck and although the meeting was supposed to be in confidence, I think there is a public interest in revealing what he said to me.”
Mr Thurlbeck said Mr Crone went to him ahead of his June 10 2008 meeting with Mr Murdoch to discuss what he would say to their boss, said Mr Watson.
The Labour MP quoted Mr Thurlbeck as saying: “Just before he went to see Murdoch to clear the funds and to say we’ve got to settle, he had to speak to me about what the ‘transcript for Neville’ was all about.
“’Neville, we’ve got a problem because of this, what’s all this about?’... I looked at it. ‘I don’t know Tom, I never received it, I don’t know’.
“I’m looking at it and saying ‘Clearly it’s hacked. Who is it? You had better speak to X, somebody must have asked X to do this’.
“I mean, X was asked to do so many of these by people on the newsdesk at the time. He would know, he would have to be pretty dumb not to know.
“So Tom comes to me and I give him a full explanation: ‘Tom, this had nothing to do with me’.
“We discussed things. He said ‘However, this shows that this has gone through the office, it’s gone through X, through his computer in the office. So clearly News International are culpable and we’re going to have to settle and I’m going to have to show this to James Murdoch.
“The reason I can remember him saying that is because I said to him ‘Please, do you have to show him this? Because he’s going to assume the worst of me and he’s going to think it was all to do with me. Is there any way we can get round this?’.
“And he said ‘Nev, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to show him this because it’s the only reason why we are having to settle. I’ve got to show him this’.
“I said ‘Tom, I’m going to lose my job’. He said ‘Not necessarily, not necessarily’.”
Mr Murdoch responded: “I have no idea of the conversation that Mr Thurlbeck allegedly had with Mr Crone around that. I would be very happy to see that if you can provide it to us at another time.
“But I can tell you that at no point do Mr Crone or Mr Myler discuss evidence or suspicion of wider-spread phone hacking during the meeting of June 10 or otherwise in relation to increasing the offer of settlement with Mr Taylor’s attorneys.”
Mr Watson replied: “I pressed him on this, and he said ‘This is not some vague memory. I was absolutely on a knife edge. He was going to show this to James Murdoch. There was only going to be one conclusion he’s going to jump to, which is get rid of Thurlbeck.”
Mr Watson quoted Mr Thurlbeck as saying: “He took it to him. The following week I said to him ‘Did you show him the email?’ and he said ‘Yes, I did’.
“Now Tom can’t remember if he showed it to him or spoke to him about it, but he said ‘Yes, I did’...
“He said ‘Yeah, yes, it’s all right, it’s fine, we’re settling’.
Mr Murdoch replied: “Mr Crone, I think, testified to you that he did not show me the email.
“My understanding is now that the email was subject to some particularly stringent confidentiality agreement with Mr Taylor’s attorneys and the police, or something like that. Mr Myler was part of that confidentiality ring, I believe, but it was not shown to me at all.
“I’ve only recently seen the email itself.”
Mr Watson suggested that News International operated a pact like the Mafia’s code of silence known as “omerta”.
He defined “omerta” as “a group of people who are bound together by secrecy, who together pursue their group’s business objectives with no regard for the law, using intimidation, corruption and general criminality”.
The Labour MP asked: “Would you agree with me that this is an accurate description of News International in the UK?”
Mr Murdoch replied: Absolutely not, I frankly think that’s offensive and it’s not true.”
Mr Watson said: “You must be the first Mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”
Mr Murdoch referred to his father Rupert’s declaration that it was “the most humble day of his life” when he appeared before the same committee over the hacking scandal in July.
He told the MPs: “I think we’re all humbled by it, and trying to improve the business, improve the structures and leadership across all of the operating companies to make sure that these things do not happen again, because they are things that I am very sorry about.”
Mr Murdoch rejected a suggestion from Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders that he and News International suffered from “wilful blindness” over the extent of phone hacking.
But he acknowledged that the company should not have been so quick to dismiss allegations about the scandal.
“If there was a mistake or a shift that we need to focus on, it was the tendency for a period of time to react to criticism or allegations as hostile or motivated commercially or politically, and what not,” he said.
“What we didn’t do, I think, necessarily is reflect as dispassionately as we might have.”
Mr Murdoch said he was not told that any part of the £425,000 settlement with Mr Taylor was intended to secure his silence.
“At the meeting on June 10 2008, confidentiality as a cost item was not discussed and it wasn’t my understanding at the time that confidentiality was something that was a line item that would increase the cost,” Mr Murdoch told the committee.
“It is entirely customary for settlement agreements of this nature to be confidential. It’s normal practice in many, many businesses, if not all, when faced with certain legal claims.”
Mr Murdoch said he now understood that, prior to the June 10 meeting, an offer of £350,000 had been made to settle the Taylor case, but he did not recall the figure being mentioned at the time.
“I think I was more focused on what would be the total amount that would be settled on,” he said.
He said Mr Crone was authorised to make a settlement of up to £10,000 and Mr Myler of £50,000, while settlements of up to £500,000 needed authorisation from the company’s executive committee.
“I can find no record of these authorisations being sought or given, and we have looked and tried to find out exactly how that escalation occurred during that period,” he said.
Asked whether the case had become “a Tom Crone and Colin Myler show”, he replied: “I think very much Mr Crone and Mr Myler - and it’s in the documents given to you - were very much driving the agenda around the Gordon Taylor litigation.”
He insisted that he was not shown a memo drawn up by Mr Crone for Mr Myler ahead of a meeting which supposedly took place between the News of the World editor and Mr Murdoch on May 27 2008, setting out the position in the Taylor case.
“It was not copied to me, it was not shared with me,” he said.
And he added: “I have gone and looked for records around my own diary with respect to conversations in that period. There is no record of a conversation or meeting on May 27 with Mr Myler or anyone else on this matter.
“Mr Pike notes that Mr Myler told him of a conversation - so a second-hand note of a conversation which neither Mr Myler nor I recall.
“Neither of us rule out the posisibility of a brief conversation on that day - a telephone call, or what have you - but it certainly wouldn’t have been a substantive meeting or one of us would have recalled it.”
Committee member Paul Farrelly said Mr Myler had been unable to refresh his memory of events because News International was denying him access to his diaries from the time, and he asked Mr Murdoch to allow him to do so.
But the NI executive chairman said he would have to go to the company’s board to get permission for any exception to rules barring former employees from using its systems.
Mr Murdoch was asked whether he had taken a “more hands-on approach” since the Taylor affair and now accepted that the approach he described taking then was “really pretty lax for somebody in your position”.
He replied: “It is a huge focus for the business, and it has been for the last year, to get to the bottom of this issue definitely, to co-operate with the police with respect to their criminal investigations and with this committee as well and the judicial inquiry into the press, politicians and police that is under way.
“I think, crucially, as well to learn the lessons from these episodes - to say first of all how can we improve the on-the-ground governance of operating companies around the world, including News International, and how we can improve transparency?”
Setting out measures to retrain staff and ensure compliance with the company’s standards, Mr Murdoch said: “These are things that I take very, very seriously. It’s something I have throughout my entire career.
“Clearly, the transparency that was achieved around this set of issues wasn’t good enough and it’s something that I’m determined to sort out and something we believe very strongly in.”
Committee member Paul Farrelly pressed Mr Murdoch on why a pay-out was made to Mr Taylor when the company had been maintaining at the time that phone hacking at the paper was confined to Mr Goodman and the private detective Glenn Mulcaire.
“The one thing that really right from the outset of this that really showed us, and I think any 10-year-old really, that the News of the World’s line did not stack up was the fact that Gordon Taylor was not a member of the royal family or the royal household. Did you not say ‘He’s not royal?’,” Mr Farrelly asked.
Mr Murdoch said he had not focused on the details of the specific voicemail or the fact that Mr Goodman was the royal reporter.
Mr Farrelly suggested that his father - News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch - would have asked more questions before authorising the settlement with Mr Taylor.
“Do you think your dad might have asked more questions than you asked?” he asked. Mr Murdoch replied: “I couldn’t begin to speculate.”
Mr Murdoch said that when Mr Myler and Mr Crone appeared before the committee, their evidence had contained a lot of “supposition” about his involvement in the case.
“What they never did was clearly tell you that they showed me those emails. They never told you that they showed me and discussed with me the real significance of the Queen’s Counsel opinion,” he said.
“It was a very confusing and muddled evidence session, to be honest.”