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The final James Murdoch question: Was he incompetent or complicit?

By Daniel Elton
February 29th 2012

As James Murdoch steps down as Executive Chairman of News International it should be remembered what happened on his watch. Not only is the full extent of phone hacking and corrupt practices involving the police coming to light, but the massive cover up that went with it.

It is worth revisiting Alex Hern’s fisking yesterday of News International’s ‘Only two bad apples’ defence back in 2009. James Murdoch was Executive Chairman at the time. The only question concerning James remains: Was he staggeringly incompetent in being unaware of the original crimes and the cover up, or was he complicit?

Following the flurry of revelations at the Leveson enquiry as to the extent of criminal behaviour at Rupert Murdoch’s News International, and his odd non-deninal denial, Left Foot Forward looked back to the corporation’s first denial of criminality, back when they may have hoped the whole thing would blow over.

With the benefit of hindsight, we wonder how they kept a straight face drafting it.

News International Statement on Guardian Article – 7/10/2009

From our own investigation, but more importantly that of the police, we can state with confidence that, apart from the matters referred to above, there is not and never has been evidence to support allegations that:

• News of the World journalists have accessed the voicemails of any individual.

• News of the World or its journalists have instructed private investigators or other third parties to access the voicemails of any individuals.

We know now that News of the World either hacked, or instructed investigators to hack, the voicemails of Charlotte ChurchSienna Miller, and Andy Gray; all three have since settled with News International.

Also hacked were 7/7 hero Paul Dadge; Shaun Russell, whose wife and daughter were killed in 1996; Sara Payne, mother of murdered child Sarah Payne; and police officer Dan Lichters.

And, of course, there was Rupert Murdoch’s “full and humble” apology for his paper hacking the voicemail of Milly Dowler.

• There was systemic corporate illegality by News International to suppress evidence.

As Nick Robinson reported when James Murdoch gave testimony to the DCMS select committee:

What Tom Watson and others have so doggedly revealed – [is] that News International suppressed significant evidence of widespread illegality for more than two years.


It goes without saying that had the police uncovered such evidence, charges would have been brought against other News of the World personnel. 

In fact, “Investigators for London’s Metropolitan Police Service had evidence in 2006 that “hundreds” of victims had been targeted for possible phone hacking by the News of the World… Butofficers had other priorities and insufficient resources to pursue the matter as thoroughly as they could have.”

Not only have there been no such charges, but the police have not considered it necessary to arrest or question any other member of News of the World staff.

This, at least, was true at the time. Now, though, at least twelve ex-NotW staffers have been arrested.

Based on the above, we can state categorically in relation to the following allegations which have been made primarily by the Guardian and widely reported as fact by Sky News, BBC, ITN and others this week:

• It is untrue that officers found evidence of News Group staff, either themselves or using private investigators, hacking into “thousands” of mobile phones.

Maybe not, but by July 2011, the police had indeed found enough evidence to contact thousands of potential victims:

The Metropolitan Police’s deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers, who is leading the probe, said that only 170 of the almost 4,000 potential victims have been contacted. Officers are examining 3,870 names, along with 5,000 landline numbers and 4,000 mobiles, she told the Home Affairs Select Committee.

• It is untrue that apart from Goodman, officers found evidence that other members of News Group staff hacked into mobile phones or accessed individuals’ voicemails.

Officers may not have found evidence, but that may have been due to incompetence or over closeness  to News International, rather than lack of evidence.

As the Daily Telegraph reported on Friday:

The publisher of the News of the World has admitted for the first time that four of its journalists personally hacked phones using information supplied by the private detective Glenn Mulcaire.

Until now, the only reporter to have admitted hacking was Clive Goodman, the former royal editor who was jailed in 2007. But court papers released to The Daily Telegraph show that News Group Newspapers accepts that three other unnamed reporters at the now-defunct tabloid “intercepted voicemail messages using information provided by” Mulcaire.

• It is untrue that there is evidence that News Group reporters, or indeed anyone, hacked into the telephone voicemails of John Prescott.

Except he settled for £40,000.

• It is untrue that “Murdoch journalists” used private investigators to illegally hack into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including: tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills.

Leveson revealed that “The information seized by police from [a] private investigator [used by several newspapers] included documents with ex-directory telephone numbers and itemised phone bills,” and that “Glenn Mulcaire’s notes contained details of [Steve] Coogan’s girlfriends, his account number, his bank transactions and his pin number.”

• It is untrue that News Group reporters have hacked into telephone voicemail services of various footballers, politicians and celebrities named in reports this week.

News Group reporters knowingly used information that could only have come from hacked voicemails, which is why the paper had to settle with so many of them, rather than relying on their ‘one rotten apple’ defence.

• It is untrue that News of the World executives knowingly sanctioned payment for illegal phone intercepts.

The “For Neville” email shows that NotW executives either knowingly sanctioned payment for illegal intercepts of Gordon Taylor’s phone, or were unbelievably negligent for a group of people who are, in all other respects, extremely competent business people.

The Telegraph, reporting on evidence given to Leveson yesterday, revealed that:

News International’s “one rogue reporter” defence… was known to likely be false by at least three of the company’s most senior executives four years previously.

Originally published in Left Foot Forward

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