Leveson Inquiry: James Murdoch 'stands by' email testimony

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Media captionJames Murdoch spoke to David Cameron about News Corp's bid for BSkyB

James Murdoch "stands by" testimony he never saw an email revealing phone hacking went beyond a single reporter, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.

The ex-News International chairman said he had thought hacking a "thing in the past" when he took over his father's UK newspaper operations in 2007.

It remained his position that he did not know of the "For Neville" email until 2010, he told the inquiry.

He was also asked about meeting David Cameron during News Corp's BSkyB bid.

Mr Murdoch's father, News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch, will appear before the inquiry on Wednesday and Thursday.

It is the first time either of them have appeared in front of the Leveson Inquiry.

James Murdoch, who resigned from News International in February, having been appointed to run the company in 2007.

The inquiry is tackling the Murdochs' awareness of allegations that the practice of illegally intercepting voicemails went beyond News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007.

Last year James Murdoch told MPs he had no prior knowledge of the scale of wrongdoing on the newspapers he controlled.

He told Lord Justice Leveson he had a "general awareness that a reporter had illegally intercepted voicemails, had gone to jail along with the private investigator involved".

"It was a general understanding of an event in the past."

The inquiry questioned Mr Murdoch in detail over the "For Neville" email, which was sent by a junior News of the World reporter to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2008, and contained the illegally obtained transcripts of voicemails belonging to football union boss Gordon Taylor.

In December, another email from 2008 was released indicating Mr Murdoch had been copied into messages referring to the "rife" practice of phone hacking at the News of the World and also citing the "For Neville" email.

Mr Murdoch has said although he was copied into the email, he did not read it fully.

Legal settlements

He told the inquiry: "I didn't read the email chain. It was a Saturday, I had just come back from Hong Kong, I was with my children. I responded in minutes."

He said he now accepts that the "For Neville" email was "a thread" that raised the suspicion of wider phone hacking at the News of the World.

"The fact it suggested other people might have been involved in phone hacking - that part of its importance was not imparted to me that day," he said.

The News of the World reached an out-of-court settlement with Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association, in 2008.

James Murdoch said it was "reasonable" to leave the settlement negotiations to NoW legal manager Tom Crone and editor Colin Myler.

He said there was a "budget of a million and change for legal settlements at the News of the World".

He went on to say he was aware "in small detail" of a £1m settlement with PR guru Max Clifford in March 2010 as there was a commercial relationship with Mr Clifford which the newspaper wanted to "re-establish".

The Leveson Inquiry is now turning its attention to the relationship between the press and prominent politicians as part of its examination of the ethics, culture and practices of the UK's newspapers.

Image caption Rupert Murdoch is in London ahead of his appearance before the inquiry on Wednesday

James Murdoch was questioned by counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay QC about his contact with politicians before and during News Corp's bid for the remaining shares in BSkyB - an attempt which was dropped in July 2011.

He said he was "alive to the risk" that politics might influence his company's position, but added: "We rested on the soundness of the legal case."

He told of a meeting with David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition, on 10 September 2009 at the George club to discuss the "Sun's proposed endorsement" of the Conservatives for the upcoming general election.

'Tiny conversation'

Mr Murdoch also said he discussed the BSkyB bid with Mr Cameron at the home of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks on 23 December 2010 - seven months after he became prime minister.

It was also two days after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his responsibility for overseeing the BSkyB bid after he was secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Murdoch said he spoke briefly to the prime minister about the removal of Mr Cable, saying it was a "tiny conversation" and not a discussion.

He denied the purpose of the meetings with Mr Cameron was partly to find out where he stood on issues which would directly affect Mr Murdoch's companies, such as TV and press regulation.

He said: "I might want to know but the purpose of these meetings wasn't necessarily to find out, they were discussions were on a broad range of subjects, from foreign policy to other things."

Asked whether he was friends with Chancellor George Osborne, he said: "We have been friendly. I wouldn't say he was a close friend."

He added he had had been to the chancellor's grace-and-favour home Dorneywood once and had had one discussion with Mr Osborne about the BSkyB bid.

The inquiry also considered emails by Frederic Michel, News Corp head of public affairs.

One referred to a call James Murdoch made to Vince Cable on the day of BSkyB bid, saying it went well and "we should have recorded him".

Another said that Mr Michel had a note from Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's adviser, Adam Smith, that "the UK government would be supportive throughout the process".

The inquiry, led by Lord Justice Leveson, was set up after outrage following allegations that the now-closed News of the World hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

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