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James Murdoch faces new phone-hacking grilling

British lawmakers recall News Corp. executive James Murdoch in the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked his family's media empire. The move comes after two former employees of the News of the World, the defunct tabloid at the center of the scandal, say he knew the hacking was not confined to one rogue reporter, as he told a parliamentary panel in July.

September 14, 2011|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times
  • James Murdoch, shown in July, has been recalled for further questioning by British lawmakers investigating illegal phone hacking.
James Murdoch, shown in July, has been recalled for further questioning… (Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated…)

Reporting from London — Media executive James Murdoch has been recalled to face further questioning by British lawmakers after two former subordinates told Parliament last week that he knew more about illegal phone hacking by his company's reporters than he previously disclosed.

Media executive James Murdoch has been recalled to face further questioning by British lawmakers after two former subordinates told Parliament last week that he knew more about illegal phone hacking by his company's reporters than he previously disclosed.

A former editor and an ex-legal advisor for the now defunct News of the World tabloid told lawmakers that Murdoch, chairman of the British subsidiary of News Corp., was aware that phone hacking was not confined to one rogue reporter, as he maintained in his initial grilling before a committee of Parliament in July.

Both men referred to a crucial 15-minute meeting they had with Murdoch in 2008 over an email that seemed to implicate at least one other reporter in the hacking of cellphones, an illegal tactic for which one of the paper's reporters had already been convicted.

Murdoch has since said he stands by his original statement to lawmakers that he knew nothing of phone hacking that went beyond royals reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for Goodman. Both men were convicted and served prison time for hacking into phone and voice-mail accounts of the royal family.

At the 2008 meeting, Murdoch and his subordinates, former News of the World editor Colin Myler and ex-legal advisor Tom Crone, also discussed the authorization of a six-figure out-of-court settlement offered by News of the World to Gordon Taylor, a former soccer player and executive. Taylor was suing the paper over the hacking of his voice mail.

Murdoch, who appeared before Parliament's Culture, Sports and Media Committee in July along with his father, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, admitted then that he had agreed to the settlement with Taylor. But in a statement last week, he insisted again that he had not been told "that wrongdoing extended beyond Mr. Goodman or Mr. Mulcaire."

"As I said in my testimony, there was nothing discussed in the meeting that led me to believe that a further investigation was necessary," he said.

Committee Chairman John Whittingdale told Sky News on Tuesday: "Clearly there are different accounts which we've heard. … We would like to hear more from James Murdoch about how he recalls the meeting."

"It may well be that he comes and … simply disagrees," Whittingdale added, "but obviously that's something it would be helpful to hear directly from him."

The date of Murdoch's appearance was not immediately announced, though several British media accounts said it might be in November.

The scandal over illegal hacking has roiled Britain's tabloid industry and damaged the reputation of Rupert Murdoch's international media empire. Public anger grew in July when it was revealed that the cellphone of teenage kidnap victim Milly Dowler was hacked and that some voice-mail messages had been deleted on orders of News of the World staff members. Dowler was later killed.

The Murdochs closed the 168-year-old tabloid in response to the subsequent outcry.

Sixteen people have been arrested so far on charges related to the phone-hacking scandals, including former editors and senior News of the World staff.

Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London bureau.

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