Rupert Murdoch claims to have been kept in the dark about major developments in the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, which was “1%” of his company, and James Murdoch was unable to recall key information at their joint appearance before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into phone hacking overnight.

In three hours of evidence before MPs, the Murdochs admitted:

  • Rupert could not remember who had first told him about the scandal;
  • Rupert was guilty of “laxity” in relation to the scandal because the News of the World formed such a small part of his business;
  • Rupert not aware Rebekah Brooks had admitted payments to police in 2003, and believed she had corrected her position on the issue “quickly”;
  • Rupert was not told of huge settlements to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford;
  • James would not countenance the idea of releasing Taylor from the confidentiality requirements of his settlement;
  • Rupert had never heard of Neville Thurlbeck, the NotW journalists arrested earlier this year;
  • James reluctantly admitted that the company is still contributing to the legal bills of Glen Mulcaire, the private investigator responsible for hacking the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Both Murdochs claimed this was on legal advice. Pressed to stop contributing to Mulcaire’s legal advice, Rupert agreed to do so if he was allowed to “contractually”;
  • Like the payments for Mulcaire’s legal advice, the settlement with Gordon Taylor was made only because of legal advice;
  • Rupert rang the editor of the Sunday Times weekly but the News of the World fortnightly, and did not seek specific information about any stories in the outlet; and
  • James repeatedly claimed he could not recall, or did not have the specifics of, key information about the scandal.

In contrast to the Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks gave an assured performance before the committee after her former employers, fending off aggressive questioning and claiming that News International’s internal financial structures were a key reason she had no knowledge of Mulcaire’s action. As editor, she argued, her role was to obtain a global budget for the masthead, which was then managed by the associate editor and deputy editors. It is they who were responsible for authorizing payments. She also again tried to clarify her disastrous 2003 admission as editor that the NotW had paid police for information “in the past”, saying she personally had never authorized payments to police.

The really significant political development of the day, however, was before the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which heard from, successively, the outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson, his Public Affairs director Dick Fedorico, his former deputy John Yates and former DPP Ken MacDonald, hired by News Corporation to conduct an internal investigation.

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Stephenson revealed that he had offered Prime Minister David Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn a briefing on the scandal last year, and been turned down. It also emerged that Neil Wallis, a former NotW deputy editor arrested last week over the scandal, had worked with Cameron’s press adviser and former NotW editor Andy Coulson on the Tory campaign in 2009 before being employed by Yates at the Metropolitan Police.

The direct connection between Wallis and the Cameron campaign brings the scandal closer to 10 Downing St, already linked directly via Andy Coulson.

Lord Macdonald also told the committee that within minutes of examining NotW emails at the request of the News Corporation board, he decided the material needed to go to the police, as it was “blindingly obvious” that it showed corrupt payments to police.

News International’s handling of emails and other material in relation to the scandal has repeatedly shown to be flawed, with claims of “full cooperation” with the police undermined by the apparent withholding of relevant material. Yates accused the company of a “deliberate cover-up” and suggested more at the company should follow his and Stephenson’s lead and resign.

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