There’s more doubt today about whether Deputy COO James Murdoch can take over News Corp. No top executive of a major corporation wants to be accused of lying to a British government committee. But that’s exactly what has happened. The chairman of the committee that grilled James on Tuesday is intent on having him answer more questions after a former News Of The World editor and News International lawyer said Murdoch was “mistaken” in testifying that he didn’t know in 2008 that more than one NOTW reporter was involved with phone hacking. “We will need to find out” how James responds to the charge Culture, Media and Sport Committee Chairman John Whittingdale says. Although the committee is on vacation, and hasn’t voted to formally recall James, Whittingdale says he wants Murdoch’s response “within a week.” If lawmakers conclude he lied to them then he might have to pay a fine, and could even go to jail.
Hopes that the scandal will blow over are fading with each revelation challenging Murdoch’s account of what happened behind the scenes. Yesterday NOTW editor Colin Myler and News International legal manager Tom Crone contradicted Murdoch’s testimony that he didn’t know in 2008 that NOTW chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck had instigated a hack of soccer union leader Gordon Taylor’s phone. “In fact, we did inform him,” the two executives said in a statement. If that’s true, then Murdoch could be seen as trying to obstruct justice when he paid Taylor an astronomical $1.4M to settle his hacking case out of court with an agreement that prohibited Taylor from publicly discussing the matter. That left the impression that NOTW‘s hacking problem was limited to one reporter — Clive Goodman, who had already pleaded guilty to hacking in 2007. The two executives say they’re sure James knew he had a bigger problem: They had sent him an email titled “for Neville” that included a transcript from the Taylor phone hack.
Some members of Parliament say it’s hard to believe Murdoch’s testimony that he was “not aware” of the “for Neville” email when he authorized the settlement with Taylor. Whittingdale says that the email is “a very important piece of information and I suspect that if James Murdoch had had it drawn to his attention then he would remember it.” He added that the committee considered it “the single most significant piece of evidence” showing that hacking went beyond Goodman. Another committee member, Tom Watson, told the BBC that the email “shows that (Murdoch) 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 that (Murdoch) is facing investigation for perverting the course of justice.”