James Murdoch accused of misleading parliament

"We would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told...was mistaken."

James Murdoch has been accused of misleading MPs by two former News of the World executives.

Colin Myler, who edited the paper until its closure two weeks ago, and Tom Crone, formerly the paper's top lawyer, issued a statement last night saying that Murdoch had been "mistaken" in his evidence.

The disagreement hinges on an email known as the "for Neville" email because its link to the paper's former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, would have blown a hole in News International's defence that phone-hacking was just the work of one rogue reporter, Clive Goodman. The email is thought to be a key factor in News International's decision to pay a settlement of around £700,000 to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, when he threatened to sue the paper.

At the select committee on Tuesday, Labour MP Tom Watson asked him about this.

Watson: "When you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?"

Murdoch: "No, I was not aware of that at the time."

He claimed that Myler and Crone hid the email from him. However, their statement contradicts this claim:

Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday's Culture, Media Select Committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.

In fact, we did inform him of the 'for Neville' email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor's lawyers.

So what happens now? John Whittingdale, the chairman of the select committee said that this email was "one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry", and said that MPs would be asking Murdoch to respond and clarify.

However, it is unlikely that this will get very far. Thus far, News Corporation has issued the following statement in response:

James Murdoch stands by his testimony to the select committee.

It is difficult to see circumstances in which this would be revoked, in the absence of concrete evidence that Murdoch saw the email. Wilfully misleading a select committee is not technically a crime as evidence is not given under oath, but it certainly would not look good.

Crone and Myler's intervention is deeply troubling. If their claim is true (and given the large payment to Taylor and his confidentiality agreement, it it certainly not outside the realm of possibility), then at best Murdoch has forgotten evidence of serious criminality at his company, and at worst he has deliberately misled MPs. It is not the first time that News International executives stand accused of doing so.

Parliament is now in recess, making it unlikely that the select committee will hold a special evidence session to clarify the issue, although such a course of action is not unprecedented. One thing we can be certain of is that this story is not disappearing.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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