James Murdoch hearing - live-blog

Instant coverage and analysis as the MPs question the News International chairman about phone-hackin

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13.37: And on that note, the inquiry is over. Thanks for joining us.

13.32: Why were Mulcaire's legal costs paid, asks Farrelly? Murdoch replies that his understanding is that legally, if he was acting on the company's behalf, then it was their responsibility to pay his legal costs. Farrelly presses the point of how unpalatable it is to be paying the legal fees of the man who hacked Milly Dowler's phone.

13.27: Back to Paul Farrelly for a final question on Glenn Mulcaire. He asks whether Murdoch was involved in anyway with the rumoured £1m payment to Max Clifford. Murdoch says he was not directly involved with this settlement. Farrelly points out that Clifford, too, is not a member of the royal family and repeats his line about the elder Murdoch: "I've got this Australian voice rattling around in my head..."

13.23: Murdoch tells Therese Coffey that the people who are allowed to make cash payments has been seriously restricted.

13.17: Bit of a digression here, as Steve Rotheram asks about the Hillsborough case. "Is it in the public interest to tell lies?" he says. Murdoch apologises for the coverage. Rotheram asks whether the Sun will be closed too if it is found that there was phone-hacking there. Murdoch says he can't "prejudge" what the corporate response would be but nothing is ruled out. This is the first time a News International executive has said that they could close other papers.

13.13: It gets personal. Watson says that a former NI employee claimed Rebekah Brooks had a "pathological dislike" for him (Watson). He reads out comments Brooks allegedly made to Tony Blair, calling on the then PM to reign the backbencher in: "he's mad". Watson asks if Murdoch knows about this. Murdoch is awkward, and says he had very little to do with the former prime minister.

Watson says that "the diktat went out" to staff to "dig up as much dirt as you can" on the culture committee. Murdoch says he had no knowledge of this.

13.09: Watson gets Murdoch to check with his counsel whether they knew about computer hacking in cases that were settled. After a pause, Murdoch says "they'd like to come back to you".

13.06: Whittingdale (the chair) turns back to Watson, given Mensch's line of questioning. Murdoch accepts that the use of surveillance of public figures was too widespread, in answer to Watson, who has listed the names of private investigators who worked for NI. He says that new guidelines at News International ban the use of private investigators without approval from the chief executive.

13.02: Mensch suggests it would have been better for News International to give a full disclosure rather than allow the damaging drip drip drip of revelations. Murdoch says that in future, the company will be "transparent and appropriate as possible".

12.58: She's asking about the surveillance of lawyers of plaintiffs. He says that it is "unacceptable" behaviour that he would "never condone" and that he was shocked to find it out. "The whole affair is just not acceptable, and not on," Murdoch says. On the surveillance of committee members (including Tom Watson), Murdoch apologises and says that although there is sometimes cause to trail public figures in investigative journalism, in this case it was unjustifiable.

12.53: Louise Mensch takes over, saying that she will have to leave as soon as she's finished asking questions so that she can collect her children from school. She asks how many other News International titles have been hacking phones, "to your knowledge". Murdoch looks unsettled. He says he can't speculate, but that they are taking it very seriously.

She's following up on accounts of people being hacked on American soil. He says he has no knowledge of this. "You're coming up blank," she says.

12.50: "Do you think you have handled this competently?" Murdoch pauses, and then says that he behaved reasonably given the information that he had. He says that he "shares" responsibility for the fact that the company took a long time to see the issue as legitimate criticism rather than simply attacks, and he will make sure this doesn't happen again.

Farrelly presses the issue, asking whether Murdoch's failure to ask screamingly obvious questions makes him incompetent. "No, it does not," says Murdoch, adding that he would not characterise it that way.

12.48: The complete contradiction between Myler/Crone's testimony and Murdoch's is being spelt out. Farrelly says that if they are telling the truth, Murdoch is lying, and vice versa. Murdoch replies by questioning the reliability of their testimony, saying it is full of supposition.

12.41: Farrelly says that Murdoch was "possibly the only person in London" to still believe that the hacking was the fault of one rogue reporter.

12.35: Farrelly is going over the same ground: why didn't Murdoch ask any further questions about what else Glenn Mulcaire was doing. He points out that Gordon Taylor was not royal -- and the "rogue reporter" narrative pinned the blame on Clive Goodman, the royal reporter. Would Rupert Murdoch not have asked how much more Mulcaire was going to cost? "I couldn't possibily speculate".

"It's remarkably incurious," he says. "Are you always so incurious?" All the MPs have made it clear they disbelieve Murdoch's account that he didn't know the extent of what was going on, but he is not budging. It is unlikely he will. The implication is that if he is not lying, he was recklessly hands off.

12.27: Paul Farrelly asks whether Murdoch will give Colin Myler (former NOTW editor) access to relevant documents so that he can "refresh his memory" as to whether a meeting took place. Murdoch evades the question, saying that he can show them his calendar, which has no reference to a meeting on that day. He pointedly refuses to say that he will grant Myler access to these documents, instead saying he will review News International procedures around that request.

12.22: The Guardian has a transcript of Watson's show-stopping revelation that he had spoken with Thurlbeck. Watson said:

Thurlbeck: I looked at it (the Neville email), no Tom, I never received it, I don't know. I'm looking at it and saying that surely somebody must have asked X to do this, X was asked to do so many of these by the newsdesk at the time.

So Tom comes to me and I tell him I had nothing to do with it. He tells me that it's gone through X in the office, so clearly News International are culpable, and I'm going to have to show this to James Murdoch.

He said is there any way we can get round this? And he says to me, Nev, I'm sorry I've got to show him this. I said Tom, I'm going to lose my job; he said not necessarily.

This is not some vague memory, I was absolutely on a knife edge. Tom took it to him. The following week I said "did you show him the email?" He said "yes I did". Now he can't remember whether he showed it to Mr Murdoch or not. He said "it's alright, it's fine, it's settled.

12.18: This is a clever line of questioning. Davies says that if, as Murdoch says, it was a culture where the top dogs basically ignored small parts of the business, then why would Crone have a strict ceiling on the level of payment he was allowed to authorise? (he couldn't authorise payments of more than £10,000). Murdoch responds:

The situation that we had here is one where a description was given very clearly by senior legal counsel that this case would be lost. There was an amount of money that was substantial, you are absolutely right. The way the company has always operated is to rely on executives responsible for a corner of the business to do what they need to do.

12.15: Davies says he can't even begin to believe that any self-respecting chief executive would fail to ask questions about such a substantial payment. He says he struggles to understand such a "cavalier" approach to money.

12.08: Philip Davies has taken over. "You seem more vague this time round than you were the first time round," he says, referring to Murdoch's repeated assertions that he does not recall exact details, etc. He continues to ask about the Taylor settlement.

He focuses on the advice given by Michael Silverleaf QC, which suggested the existence of evidence of a widespread culture of phone-hacking. Murdoch maintains that all he knew was what Silverleaf said about how much Taylor should receive in damages.

12.04: The general consensus is that Tom Watson has stolen the show. He has been building up to this moment. My colleague Jon Bernstein interviewed Watson in September, and discussed his questioning technique:

His probing was pithy and carefully sequenced, with the occasional leading question thrown in like a hand grenade. One lawyer suggested that all young barristers should be made to watch the exchange as part of their education.

Watson, who is now 44, puts the success of the session down, in part, to "massive preparation . . . For two years, I have been reading and absorbing this stuff. Then I worked for three days solid before we went in."

The other part, he says, was to work out what lay at the heart of the controversy. Once he had established that - "It's about the institutional culture at News International; this is about leadership" - he knew that Rupert, not James, should be his focus. Watson worked out how to order his questions. "At that point, I phoned up as many of my friends who are lawyers to say, 'This is how I want to do this - how would I lead it to this?'"

12.00: Murdoch continues to blame Myler and Crone, saying that he believed their advice on the Taylor case because he had "no reason at the time to believe they had anything other than the newspaper's best interests at heart". Collins is pushing the point though: why didn't Murdoch ask more questions when he was signing away half a million pounds? This is important: the real reason they settled is that going to court would have revealed evidence of wide-spread phone-hacking.

11.55: The Conservative MP Damian Collins has taken over, and there are none of Watson's theatrics. He is returning to the issue of exactly how much Murdoch knew when he agreed to the £425,000 out of court settlement for Gordon Taylor.

Murdoch reiterates his case: he was told it was "open and shut" that News International will lose the case. He saw evidence that Taylor's phone had been hacked, but not that anyone else's was.

11.50: Watson is enjoying this. "Are you familiar with the word mafia, Mr Murdoch?" He follows up: "Are you familiar with the word 'omerta', the culture of silence around the mafia? Do you accept that applies to the Murdoch empire?" Murdoch says he does not, and that this is an offensive statement.

Watson has his moment: "You must be the first mafia boss in history not to know he was running a criminal enterprise." Murdoch: "Mr Watson, please. That's inappropriate."

11.43: Watson says that since Murdoch will not answer his questions, he says that he will reveal that he met with Neville Thurlbeck. The meeting was supposed to be in confidence but he feels there is a public interest in sharing it. Thurlbeck recounts a conversation with Tom Crone where Crone said he was going to show the "for Neville" email to Murdoch.

Watson reads out a transcript of a conversation between Thurlbeck and Crone. Thurlbeck: "'Is there any way we can get round this?" Crone: "Nev, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to show him this, because it's the only reason we have to settle."

Murdoch is clearly rattled, but responds as calmly as he can to this attack, saying that he would like to see the transcript and couldn't comment on whether Thurlbeck's recollection is accurate.

According to Watson, Thurlbeck said: "This is not some vague memory. He was going to show this to James Murdoch."

11.39: Watson is incredulous at Murdoch's continued denial that he knew anything about the evidence of wide-spread phone-hacking.

Are you seriously asking me to believe that there was no mention of the 'for Neville' email, despite this being central to your discussions with Myler and Crone and in Crone's opinion, fatal to your case?

11.36: He is not wavering from his story: he did not see, and was not shown, any evidence that wide-spread phone-hacking existed. "Certain individuals" were aware of what was going on back in 2008, but "none of those things" were relayed to him. Murdoch suggests he was given a "narrower set of facts than I might have liked" because he would have said to "cut out the cancer" and get rid of anyone suspected of wrong-doing.

11.29: Watson: "Did you mislead this committee?" Murdoch: "No, I didn't". Watson: "If you didn't, then who did?"

Murdoch says that Myler (the News of the World's former editor) and Crone's (the paper's lawyer) testimony was "misleading, and I dispute it". Watson asks whether the Farrer's lawyer misled them. Murdoch stumbles, and says that he doesn't have reason to believe that.

11.26: Murdoch remains in control and calm -- he hasn't referred to his notes. He is riled though: "No, I don't accept that, Mr Watson". Watson continues to focus on how much Murdoch knew about the Taylor case, and alleges that Murdoch made an "unprecented payment to Taylor to buy his silence".

11.22: Labour MP and star of this inquiry, Tom Watson, is now questioning Murdoch. He is asking about the legal advice given by law firm Farrers, and an internal memo which said that the evidence unearthed in the Gordon Taylor settlement could be "fatal to our case". Murdoch continues to claim ignorance, saying that he knew this legal advice existed but not what it said.

He's sticking to his story that he was new to the News of the World, thought that phone-hacking was in the past, and paid Taylor without asking any questions.

11.21: Echoing his last appearance, Murdoch says that the News of the World was one small part of a global company, and that is why he did not know all the details.

11.18: Murdoch says "If I'd known then what I know today, the company would have acted differently." He's referring -- again -- to the "for Neville" email, which indicated that phone-hacking went beyond one rogue reporter (Goodman), as the newspaper had claimed.

11.16: Murdoch says that the company "pushed back too hard" on the Guardian's initial reports. Earlier, he said that their mistake was assuming attacks were politically or commercially motivated.

11.13: Adrian Sanders asks whether Murdoch has had time to consider the meaning of "wilful blindness" since his last appearance. "At no point so I think the company suffered from wilful blindness," says Murdoch. Since he has consistently been unaware of details, says Sanders, does this mean information was kept from him? He says the information held by the Metropolitan police "was not made clear to me". He essentially blames Colin Myler for not making the full story clear to him:

Senior management rely on executives to behave in a certain way. We have to rely on those executives, otherwise it's impossible to manage every single detail in a company of this scale.

11.10: Sheridan asks whether he is "humbled" by the affair, as Rupert Murdoch said he was. "I think the whole company is humbled," says Murdoch.

11.08: Jim Sheridan is asking him about the aftermath of the Clive Goodman case and what he was told. Murdoch said he did not see counsel opinion that phone-hacking was more widespread. He says that Les Hinton did not discuss the Goodman settlement with him when Murdoch became chairman: "It was some time before I had joined...the arrests were well over a year, a year and a half before."

11.04: As predicted, the questions have kicked off with how much Murdoch knew about the "for Neville" email. After his last appearance, Tom Crone and Colin Myler disputed his claim that he had no knowledge of this email (Sky News has a good summary of the claims that have been made so far).

Murdoch says that the suspicion of wider evidence of hacking was not discussed in May 2008 meetings with Crone and Myler, despite the settlement to Gordon Taylor. He concedes that he was told about the "for Neville" email but sticks to his line: he wasn't told that it showed wider evidence of hacking.

10.59: Here's the full list of the 10 members of the cross-party culture, media and sport select committee that will question Murdoch:

Thérèse Coffey (Conservative)
Damian Collins (Conservative)
Philip Davies (Conservative)
Paul Farrelly (Labour)
Alan Keen (Labour Co-operative)
Louise Mensch (Conservative)
Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat)
Jim Sheridan (Labour)
Tom Watson (Labour)
Steve Rotheram (Labour)

10.52am: Welcome to the live-blog. Stay with this page for up-to-the-minute coverage of James Murdoch's appearance in front of the culture select committee.

Since Murdoch was last questioned by MPs, back in July, a string of further allegations have surfaced. The number of potential phone-hacking victims has more than doubled from 2,000 to 5,800, and it has emerged that in addition to phone-hacking, the News of the World ordered covert surveillance of Prince William and more than 100 others.

The testimony he gave in July has been questioned by others at the News of the World -- in particular expect MPs to ask about the so-called "for Neville email" which would prove how much he knew when he signed off a 2008 out-of-court payment to footballers' union leader Gordon Taylor.

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

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.