The House of Commons committee investigating phone hacking at the News of the World is already three months overdue with its report because members have been arguing about how hard to whack James Murdoch. So will they brand him a liar or settle for chump? And just what is the evidence against him?

Phone hacking began at the paper in 2001 and continued until at least 2009, according to the police. James took charge of Murdoch’s British newspapers in December 2007, when he became CEO of News International and moved to Wapping. So, journalists were hacking into phones for at least a year, from the same office as him, while he was in charge.

Did he order that hacking? No.

Did he know it was continuing? There is no evidence that he did.

But did he know it had been widespread? This is the $64,000 question, because he has told everyone repeatedly, including the House of Commons committee, that he did not.

Eleven months before James Murdoch took charge, NotW royal correspondent Clive Goodman had been jailed, along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, for hacking into phones belonging to the royal household.

It had been a huge scandal, which News International had immediately and thoroughly investigated — or so it had claimed. So did they really find nothing? And did James really think it was confined to a “lone rogue reporter”, as he and others continued to claim? Mulcaire had been on an annual contract at the paper since 2001 and had hacked thousands of phones for its journalists. Did no one tell James what Mulcaire did for them? Did James never ask?

In January 2007, Mulcaire pleaded guilty in court to hacking into the phones of at least five people who were NOT connected with the royal family — and who would be written about by journalists other than Goodman — including football manager Gordon Taylor and ex-model Elle McPherson. The sentencing judge agreed that other NotW journalists were the clients for these interceptions.

As one Labour committee member, Paul Farrelly, told James in parliament last November, this was enough to show “any 10-year-old that the News of the World‘s line did not stack up”.

Yet James claims to have been convinced by it. Could he really have been that stupid? And should he be running a huge media group like News Corp if he was?

In March 2007, two months after Mulcaire’s public admissions, Goodman wrote to News International’s head of Human Resources, in a letter copied to Les Hinton (James’s predecessor as CEO), alleging that “other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures” — hacking — and that it was “widely discussed in the daily editorial conference”.

Did James not see that letter? Did Hinton not tell him or report back to Rupert, whom he had worked with for 40 years? Did James never demand a briefing on the extent of the problem when he took over? Did he really believe it was too trivial to bother with? It is hard to believe he could have been so negligent. But it’s not impossible.

James claims in his latest letter to the House of Commons committee that he believed in December 2007 that phone hacking at the paper was a “historic, isolated issue”, that it had been “settled … as a result of the prosecutions”, and that the company had “moved on”. He claimed to have only known about it because it was “publicly reported”, and had not “focused” on it or “followed the details” of the arrests or prosecutions.

However, it is clear that a large number of people who reported to James, met with him and communicated with him inside the company knew that hacking had occurred on an industrial scale.

*Read the full story at The Power Index

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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