LONDON (Reuters) - British politicians, struggling in their bid to find out who knew what about phone hacking at a Rupert Murdoch tabloid, will recall son James for further questioning after employees contradicted his repeated claims of innocence.
James Murdoch, chairman of News Corp’s British newspaper arm, spent almost three, uncomfortable hours in front of a parliamentary committee with his father in July, answering questions over what they had done to unravel the scandal at the News of the World.
But James’s testimony, and his insistence that he did not know the problem stretched beyond ‘one rogue reporter’ until earlier this year, has since been undermined by two senior employees who say they made him aware of a wider problem in 2008.
Tom Watson, the most dogged member of the committee to pursue the case, told Reuters they would first want to speak to Les Hinton, the most senior News Corp executive to stand down over the scandal, several lawyers and then James Murdoch.
“We’re inviting him back,” he said. “We feel we should hear from Les Hinton and a couple of the lawyers before James Murdoch, so realistically we are talking about November.”
News Corp has been engulfed by the scandal since July when it was revealed that the phone hacking extended beyond celebrities and politicians to murder victims including schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and British war dead.
The crisis has already wiped billions of dollars off News Corp’s market value, cost it two senior executives, forced it to drop a $12 billion bid for BSkyB and to shut down the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid.
James Murdoch, News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer, has seen his chances of succeeding his father and founder of the media empire, Rupert, recede.
News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp, said it was still to hear from the committee, but said James Murdoch would be happy to appear in front of members again to answer any further questions.
At the center of the dispute is a claim by the former editor of the News of the World and the head lawyer that they showed an email in 2008 to James Murdoch, which indicated that other journalists were involved in the practice.
Murdoch has repeatedly denied this, saying the two men did not show or mention the email in a brief meeting.
The cross-party committee will also have many questions for Hinton, the debonair former top Murdoch executive who was forced to stand down in July after he became a target for criticism over phone hacking in the United States.
Hinton ran the British newspaper arm when much of the hacking was alleged to have occurred, and then went on to run Dow Jones in the U.S..
The questioning is likely to be very precise. The committee has appeared at times exasperated in its bid to find out who authorized the phone hacking after it became clear that it was happening on an almost industrial scale to secure stories.
Members have interviewed a host of senior News Corp executives, lawyers and former editors, appearing incredulous at times as witnesses have denied all knowledge of the hacking and pleaded that they cannot remember who said or did what when.
The former lawyer Tom Crone and editor Colin Myler often said that the committee would ‘have to ask Les Hinton about that’, when they appeared before the committee a week ago.
Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Mark Potter