* James Murdoch blames ex-editor Myler, ex-legal head Crone
* Reiterates did not see "For Neville" hacking email
* Crone and Myler reject Murdoch's version
* MP Tom Watson compares Murdoch to Mafia boss
By Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton
LONDON, Nov 10 James Murdoch, fighting for
his career, held his line that he was innocent of covering up
phone-hacking at the News of the World tabloid and blamed other
former executives in a UK parliamentary hearing on Thursday.
But the 38-year-old News Corp executive and son of
media mogul Rupert had no answer during his two-and-a-half-hour
grilling to accusations he should have asked more questions,
particularly when approving a huge payoff to a hacking victim.
Murdoch accused his former editor and legal chief of
misleading him and parliament, after Colin Myler and Tom Crone
publicly contradicted his previous testimony to the committee of
British MPs investigating the phone-hacking.
"This was the job of the new editor who had come in ... to
clean things up, to make me aware of those things," said
Murdoch, appearing confident under interrogation by lawmakers
even when compared by MP Tom Watson to a Mafia boss.
Observers said Murdoch, who as executive chairman of News
Corp's British newspaper arm News International was ultimately
responsible for the now-defunct tabloid, acquitted himself well
by not damaging his reputation any further.
"There was definitely no knock-out punch delivered," said
Ian Whittaker, media analyst at Liberum Capital.
But his performance will have done nothing to win over those
with doubts about his ability to run a large company like News
Corp. Until recently he had been expected to succeed his father
at the head of the media group.
The committee will now draw up a report of its findings,
which it expects to publish by Christmas.
"Mr Murdoch, I think, did do his best to give his full
account to the committee. Clearly there are contradictions
between what he said and others have told us," the committee's
chairman, John Whittingdale, told reporters after the hearing.
The News of the World was revealed this year to have run an
industrial-scale operation to hack into the phones of murder
victims including schoolgirl Milly Dowler as well as celebrities
The scandal caused a wave of public anger which ultimately
brought about the closure of the tabloid, shook the political
establishment and saw the head of the country's largest police
Prime Minister David Cameron was also damaged by his
decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as
his communications chief in 2007.
Previously, News Corp had maintained the hacking at its
tabloid was the work of a lone, "rogue" royal reporter, Clive
Goodman, and private detective Glenn Mulcaire.
Both went to jail for the offence in 2007.
In 2008, James Murdoch approved a payoff of about 750,000
pounds ($1.2 million) to hacking victim and soccer boss Gordon
Taylor, who had in his possession an email of hacking
transcripts appearing to show the hacking went beyond Goodman.
He reiterated to MPs on Thursday he had approved the
unusually large payoff only because he was following legal
advice, and not because he knew the so-called "for Neville"
email could implicate other journalists.
"I was given sufficient information and only sufficient
information to authorise the increase of the settlement offered,
that Mr Crone and Mr Myler had already eagerly been increasing
in order to achieve a settlement even before it had come across
my desk," he said.
Opposition Labour Party MP Tom Watson, the toughest member
of the committee, asked Murdoch: "Do you think Mr Crone misled
us?" Murdoch answered: "It follows that I do, yes."
Crone later issued a statement to media rebutting Murdoch's
version of events. "The simple truth is he was told by us in
2008 about the damning email and what it meant in terms of wider
News of the World involvement," he said.
Myler likewise rejected Murdoch's account. "My evidence to
the select committee has been entirely accurate and consistent,"
he said in a statement.
Neville Thurlbeck, the former News of the World chief
reporter believed to be the "Neville" in the disputed email,
said he had been compiling his own hacking dossier and accused
the paper's executives of trying to keep a lid on what had been
happening and not News International bosses.
"If Mr Murdoch, James Murdoch, had been aware of my dossier,
if he had been aware of what I was volunteering over two years
to the News of the World he would have been far more prepared to
face this crisis," he told BBC TV.
"I think when he was giving his evidence today it was based
on ignorance ... of what had been going on on the shop floor."
Last week, a journalist working for sister newspaper The Sun
was arrested on suspicion of bribing police. When asked, Murdoch
said he could not rule out shutting down the daily tabloid,
should widespread malpractice be discovered there.
Any notion that News International was a reformed
organisation was undermined this week by its admission that the
News of the World had put lawyers defending hacking victims
under surveillance as recently as this year.
James Murdoch also said that members of the parliamentary
committee questioning him had been put under surveillance, for
which he apologised "unreservedly".
Mark Lewis, who is representing victims including the Dowler
family, told Reuters: "It's useful that I have an apology for
something that shouldn't have happened."
"But we need to know what did happen, who was doing it, why
were they doing it, the full extent and why they were bothering
to trail my family."
Murdoch survived a massive protest vote against his
membership of the board of News Corp last month, and faces a
shareholder vote on his chairmanship of British satellite
broadcaster BSkyB at the end of November.
James Murdoch adopted a more contrite tone than on his
previous appearance before the committee together with his
father Rupert in July.
"It is a matter of great regret that things went wrong at
the News of the World in 2006. The company didn't come to grips
with those issues fast enough," he said.
The sometimes testy Murdoch also failed to rise to the bait
when Watson compared him to a Mafia boss, responding mildly: "Mr
Watson, please, I think that's inappropriate."