Rupert Murdoch has admitted to a cover-up of phone hacking at the News of the World.
He told the Leveson Inquiry today he was “misinformed and shielded” from the extent of hacking at the paper, owned by News International, and blamed other newspapers for turning the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone into a national scandal.
Murdoch admitted his decision to close the News of the World was made because he panicked, but blamed other newspapers for turning the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone into a “national scandal”.
He said he was kept in the dark over the extent of phone hacking at his newspaper.
He added: “I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name, because for all I know they may be arrested yet, but there is no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to.”
The proprietor referred to “one or two very strong characters”, friends with journalists at the paper, one an unnamed lawyer described as “a drinking pal” of reporters at the paper who “forbade people to go and report to Mrs Brooks or James [Murdoch]”.
He later contradicted this, telling the inquiry: “There was no attempt, by me or several levels below me, to cover it up. We set up inquiry after inquiry, we employed legal firm after legal firm, perhaps we relied too much on the conclusions of the police.”
He was asked, by Robert Jay QC, inquiry counsel, whether he had questioned the paper’s decision to offer Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, £100,000 after his phone was hacked.
He said his son had been advised by then editor Colin Myler and head of legal Tom Crone to offer a larger sum, despite barrister Michael Silverleaf QC, representing News International in all phone hacking claims, suggested a smaller amount.
Murdoch said the decision had been taken to avoid “the risk of an appeal and triple damages, and God knows what else” and not because of a cover up.
He said he should have personally questioned former royal editor Clive Goodman, arrested for phone hacking along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2006.
He said: “He’d been an employee for a long time, and cross-examined him myself and made up my mind… if I had come to the conclusion that he was telling the truth [about widespread hacking] I’d have torn the place apart and we wouldn’t be here today.”
Murdoch called the phone hacking scandal a “serious blot” on his reputation and admitted neglecting the paper “probably throughout all the time that I’ve owned it”, saying he regretted not closing the paper sooner and replacing it with a Sunday Sun.
He added: “I have to admit that some newspapers are closer to my heart than others, but I also have to say that I failed.”
Lord Justice Leveson questioned why Murdoch had not paid greater attention to the allegations.
He said: “This was the very core of your being, so that’s why I think you’re being asked, were you not really intensely concerned to know what was going on, quite apart from everything else, because this was you?”
Asked about his comments to journalists in 2011 that Rebekah Brooks was his main priority after the scandal broke, Murdoch said he had been “seeking to keep her self-confidence”.
He added: “If you’ve got twenty journalists and paparazzi and microphones in your mouth, then you are under duress…I think it’s part of the game, [to] harass people. I mean I was being harassed, I was trying to walk all of ten yards across the street.”