Phone hacking: Rupert Murdoch ‘not a fit person to run major company’
MEDIA mogul Rupert Murdoch “turned a blind eye” to illegal activity at his British newspapers and is “not a fit person” to run an international company, a parliamentary report into the phone hacking scandal has concluded.
In the damning report by the culture, media and sport select committee, MPs unanimously agreed that senior executives from Mr Murdoch’s company News International repeatedly misled parliament and orchestrated a “cover-up” of wrongdoings carried out by his news- papers.
However, the MPs were split along party lines over the conclusion that Mr Murdoch was not a fit person to run a major international company, prompting accusations that its findings were “partisan”.
The four Conservative members of the committee refused to back the final report because it included amendments tabled by Labour MPs that fell outside the scope of the inquiry.
Among the amendments – passed when the lone Liberal Democrat on the committee backed Labour – was the claim that if Mr Murdoch was not fully informed about phone hacking, “he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on”.
The report was met with dismay by American shareholders in the Murdoch empire, who called for changes at News Corporation.
Labour MP Tom Watson said it was disappointing that the Conservatives had chosen not to support the amendments.
Refering to Mr Murdoch and his company, he said: “These people corrupted our country. They brought shame on our police force and our parliament. They lied, they cheated, blackmailed and bullied, and we should all be ashamed when we think how we cowered before them for too long,” he said.
But Conservative Louise Mensch said Mr Watson’s insistence on putting an amendment “wildly outside the scope” of the inquiry had undermined the report’s credibility.
“That will mean it will be correctly seen as a partisan report, and will have lost a very great deal of its credibility, which is an enormous shame,” she said.
Committee chairman John Whittingdale said the split would mean the impact of the report was “diluted”.
However, the committee did agree to take action on serious allegations included in the report, by asking parliament to consider pursuing contempt proceedings against named indidividuals, including former News International chief executive Les Hinton, its former legal manager Tom Crone and former News of the World editor Colin Myler, who are accused of misleading MPs.
Last night, News Corp issued a statement condemning the report as “unjustified and highly partisan”. It stated: “Hard truths have emerged from the select committee report: that there was serious wrongdoing at the News of the World; that our response was too slow and too defensive; and that some of our employees misled the committee in 2009.
“News Corp regrets, however, that the select committee’s analysis of the factual record was followed by some commentary that we, and indeed several members of the committee, consider unjustified and highly partisan.”
In its conclusions, the report said Mr Hinton had misled parliament over payments made to Clive Goodman, the disgraced former royal correspondent to the News of the World, and his role in authorising them when he gave evidence in 2009.
It also said Mr Hinton had hidden his knowledge of the how widespread phone-hacking was.
Mr Crone was accused of misleading the committee in 2009 over the commissioning of surveillance by the company.
The committee also concluded both he and Mr Myler misled MPs over their knowledge of phone-hacking practices by News of the World employees.
But James Murdoch, who was in charge of News International and has been at the centre of many of the accusations over a cover-up, escaped any censure. Labour MP Jim Sheridan said had he appeared in a Scottish court “the verdict would have been not proven”.
Rebekah Brooks, News International’s former chief executive, and Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor and chief spindoctor for David Cameron, also avoided severe criticism. Both are subject to potential criminal proceedings.
Mr Whittingdale said it would be for the Commons to decide what sanctions should be applied against anyone found to have misled the committee, if it agreed to debate the issue, as the report recommends.
The committee said that despite the professed willingness of News International to assist its inquiries, it had failed to release documents that would have helped expose the truth. It “repeatedly made misleading and exaggerated claims” regarding investigations it “purportedly” commissioned following the arrests of Mr Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
“The willingness of News International to sanction huge settlements and damaging wide-ranging admissions to settle civil claims over phone-hacking before they reach trial reinforces the conclusion of our 2010 report that the organisation has, above all, wished to buy silence in this affair and to pay to make the problem go away,” it said.
The committee strongly criticised payments – totalling £243,502.08 – made by News International to Mr Goodman in the period following his arrest.
“We are astonished that a man convicted of a criminal offence during the course of his work should be successful in his attempt to seek compensation for his perfectly proper dismissal.”
The MPs said a letter sent by Mrs Brooks and legal director Jonathan Chapman in November 2009 had referred only to a £40,000 compensation payout.
“Such incompleteness is either the result of an attempt to play down the settlement, or of ignorance about the full extent of the payments or both,” it said. The committee said the arrangements that saw News International pay £365,000 to cover Mr Mulcaire’s legal costs were further evidence of the determination “to cover up the extent of the phone-hacking scandal”.
At a press conference there were also claims that the police were still withholding evidence of invasion of people’s privacy.
Mr Watson, who has been prominent in efforts to expose phone-hacking, said he had “reason to believe” the material was in the hands of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
He said it was one of a number of serious aspects of the case not investigated by the committee.
He sought to extend the probe into new areas – including claims that News Corp could be in contempt of parliament over claims that it sought to use private investigators to dig dirt on committee members.
Mr Watson said top politicians – including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Mr Cameron and George Osborne – should reveal their e-mail and text-message contacts with News Corp executives.
Last night Scotland Yard said in a statement: “The investigation into phone hacking and related matters continues to follow evidence of suspected criminality and considerable resources are dedicated to this. We do not consider it appropriate to comment further at this time.”
The men named in the report also said they would defend their reputations.
Mr Crone and Mr Myler both said they stood by their evidence. Mr Hinton said he was “shocked and disappointed” by MPs’ claims that he misled parliament and was “complicit” in a cover-up of phone-hacking.
Downing Street said it was a matter for the House of Commons whether it chose to call a vote on the findings and declined to say whether the Prime Minister would take part if it did.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “I take extremely seriously what the committee are saying.
“I think now that what needs to happen is the regulator, Ofcom – and it is a matter for them – needs to come to its own conclusions.”