James Murdoch under pressure to clarify ‘contradictory evidence’

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by a Newsnet reporter

Pressure continues to mount on the beleaguered Murdoch empire.  On Friday Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that James Murdoch, son of tycoon Rupert Murdoch, “clearly” had questions to answer about his evidence to the Parliamentary select committee on Tuesday.

Mr Cameron continues to struggle to escape from the mire caused by the NotW scandal.  Yesterday his difficulties were made worse when his coalition partner Nick Clegg confirmed he raised questions about Mr Cameron’s decision to bring ex-NoW editor Andy Coulson into No 10 as his director of communications.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Warwickshire, the PM said: “Clearly James Murdoch has got questions to answer in Parliament, and I’m sure that he will do that.  And clearly, News International has got some big issues to deal with and a mess to clear up.”

James Murdoch gave evidence to the select committee that he was unaware of the existence of an email which proved that phone hacking was widespread within the News of the World.  Mr Murdoch asserted to the select committee that he only became aware of the email in 2010, after police had launched their second inquiry into the phone hacking and corruption allegations.

However Mr Murdoch’s evidence was apparently contradicted by a statement released yesterday by two former executives of News International, former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former News International chief legal officer Tom Crone, that they had made Mr Murdoch aware of the email and its contents in 2008.  At the time the company maintained the public position that the phone hacking was due to the actions of a lone ‘rogue’ reporter.

Should the claim by Mr Myler and Mr Crone be true, then it is not just James Murdoch who has questions to answer.  It also raises the serious question of who else in the top levels of News International management was aware of the widespread nature of the phone-hacking and corruption allegedly going on at the News of the World.

Tom Watson MP, who is a member of the committee and who asked Mr Murdoch the question, has now reported the matter to the police.  If it is proven that someone has deliberately misled Parliament, a serious criminal offence has occurred.  In a statement from the Metropolitan police, Scotland Yard officials said that they had received Mr Watson’s complaint and the matter was now under consideration.

Mr Murdoch continues to adhere to his version of events and denies he misled Parliament.

Speaking on the BBC news, Mr Watson said: “This is the most significant moment of two years of investigation into phone hacking.

“If their [Colin Myler and Tom Crone’s] statement is accurate it shows James Murdoch had knowledged that others were involved in hacking as early as 2008.  It shows he failed to act to discipline staff or initiate an internal investigation, which undermines Rupert Murdoch’s evidence to our committee that the company had a zero tolerance to wrongdoing.

“More importantly, it shows he not only failed to report a crime to the police but because there was a confidentiality clause involved in the settlement it means that he bought the silence of Gordon Taylor and that could mean he is facing investigation for perverting the course of justice.

“There is only going to be one person who is accurate. Either James Murdoch, who to be fair to him is standing by his version of events, or Colin Myler and Tom Crone.”

In another major development which increases the international pressure on the Murdochs, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation announced yesterday that it was to investigate allegations that NotW reporters hacked the actor Jude Law’s mobile telephone while he was in New York.  News International strongly denies the allegation.  

Meanwhile the Law Society has announced its intention to write to the judge who will lead the enquiry into the phone hacking in order to express its concerns after police revealed that solicitors acting for phone hacking victims may themselves have had their phones hacked.