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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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.