Tom Watson asks police to investigate James Murdoch

Accusation "could mean he is facing investigation for perverting the course of justice", says Labour

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has led the fight against phone hacking for the last five years, has asked the police to investigate claims by two former News of the World executives that James Murdoch misled parliament.

Watson told the BBC that their claim -- that Murdoch knew about an email which showed that phone-hacking was not down to one rogue reporter -- was "the most significant moment of two years of investigation." He added:

If their statement is accurate it shows James Murdoch had knowledge that others were involved in hacking as early as 2008, it shows he failed to act to discipline staff or initiate an internal investigation, which undermines Rupert Murdoch's evidence to our committee that the company had a zero tolerance to wrongdoing.

More importantly it shows he not only failed to report a crime to the police but because there was a confidentiality clause involved in the settlement it means that he bought the silence of (chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association) Gordon Taylor and that could mean he is facing investigation for perverting the course of justice.

There is only going to be one person who is accurate. Either James Murdoch, who to be fair to him is standing by his version of events, or Colin Myler and Tom Crone.

Myler and Crone will have to answer for themselves. They are clearly concerned that they have effectively been hung out to dry by James Murdoch in the evidence session earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, Sky News reports that another MP, Chris Bryant, who has also been at the forefront of calls for an investigation, has written to News Corp's non-executive directors to request that Rupert and James Murdoch are suspended. In an email, he said:

Rupert Murdoch refused to accept any responsibility for what went on at the News of the World and relied in his defence on the fact that the paper represented just one per cent of the company's business.

However, this in no way excuses the complete failure to tackle the original criminality at the company and the lackadaisical approach to such matters would suggest that there is no proper corporate governance within the company.

If Myler and Crone's claimes are found to be true, there could be serious consequences for James Murdoch. Over at Left Foot Forward, Shamik Das quotes the guide for witnesses to select committees:

Deliberately attempting to mislead a committee is a contempt of the House, which the House has the power to punish.

It will be interesting to see how Scotland Yard -- whose own competence and impartiality has been called into question over this case -- takes up Watson's challenge to investigate this claim.

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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.