Murdoch's plea of ignorance takes a knock

Tom Crone speaking at the Leveson Inquiry Tom Crone speaking at the Leveson Inquiry

James Murdoch's reputation and (probably) his ability to remain as chair of British Sky Broadcasting hinge to a great extent on whether MPs on the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee choose to believe him when he says that he did not know that phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World in 2008.

His plea of ignorance took a knock today when his own company's Management and Standards Committee provided that committee with an email stream, sent in June 2008, at the bottom of which there's an unambiguous allegation that phone hacking was "rife throughout the organisation".

It also contains an indirect reference to the notorious "For Neville" email, which is widely seen as prima facie evidence that phone hacking was more prevalent than News International, owner of the News of the World, admitted at the time.

Mr Murdoch says he received the email stream on a Saturday. He says: "I am confident that I did not review the full email chain".

That's plausible - especially since the email stream shows him firing off his contribution to the 2008 email exchange three minutes after receiving an email from Colin Myler, who was editor of the News of the World at the time.

The problem for Mr Murdoch is that Mr Myler's email is short and very blunt about the importance of the email at the bottom of the chain, which is written by Julian Pike, a solicitor at Farrar & Co.

Mr Myler, in his email to Mr Murdoch on Saturday 7 June, says: "Unfortunately it is as bad as we feared. The note from Julian Pike of Farrer's (sic) is extremely telling regarding Taylor's vindictiveness".

So Mr Myler gives an incentive to Mr Murdoch to read Mr Pyke's email - which is dated 6 June 2008 and is an account of a case being brought against the News of the World by Gordon Taylor, the chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, whose phone had been hacked by the News of the World.

Mr Pike says: "He [Gordon Taylor] wants to demonstrate that what happened to him is/was rife throughout the organisation. He wants to correct the paper telling parliamentary enquiries that this was not happening when it was".

Mr Pike also says Mr Taylor wants a staggering £1.2m to settle.

Now if Mr Murdoch had read all that, he might well have been motivated also to read the email above that one, which is to Mr Myler from Tom Crone, the former legal affairs manager of News International.

Mr Crone's email contains this explosive line:

"There is a further nightmare scenario in this, which is that several of those voicemails on the Ross Hindley email were taken from Joanne Armstrong's phone [Joanne Armstrong was the PFA's in-house lawyer]".

So here we have a News International lawyer referring to a "nightmare". And said horror is yet another email - now widely known as the "For Neville email" - that is regarded as prima facie evidence of phone hacking being more widespread than News International had said at the time.

I know this is all very confusing. But what does it all mean?

Well, it shows that Mr Murdoch was given the ability in June 2008 to get a grip on the phone-hacking scandal, via this email stream.

Had he read the email stream, Mr Murdoch would surely have gleaned that the News of the World faced the serious allegation that it had misled MPs about the full extent of phone hacking at the News of the World.

However he says he didn't read the email stream.

The defence of his probity - his claim that he knew nothing of the extent of phone hacking till about a year ago - rests on his admitting that he made a management mistake by ignoring evidence of a serious problem that was put under his nose.

It is for MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to decide whether that management error is forgiveable and understandable.

Robert Peston, economics editor Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    If he didn't know, that is the clearest instance of studied ignorance I've ever seen. It seems to me that the inquiry can choose to allow either his probity or his competency but not both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Classic defence but which resolves to a question of a choice between incompetence or being miserly with the truth. However this is a matter not confined to NI and HJ Murdoch. It is a defence often made for senior executives when things go wrong badly. There must be a case for presumed culpability. More later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I'm a little tired of this topic, especially because my mind got blown when James Murdoch was allowed to remain as Chair of British Sky Broadcasting. Can you seriously imagine that James did not know about the hacking...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Murdoch already (unwittingly) admitted breaching corporate governance laws some weeks ago on live tv.

    This is damning whether he read it or not - and to claim you wouldn't read on from that defies belief.

    How much more is needed before prosecution - or will power save power from the law yet again

    Broken Britain started at the top and needs fixing likewise

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The defence of executives seems to be sufficient if there is no evidence that they were informed of the problems - see MF Global/Corzine. There has to be a greater test for these highly paid executives like presumed culpability which is only lifted if the individual can show they did all that was reasonably possible to anticipate critical issues and ensure the timely flow of control information.


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