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19 July 2011

Culture committee: live-blog

Instant coverage and analysis as Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks are grilled by MPs.

By Samira Shackle

19.19 The chairman brings the session to a close. Brooks’s evidence has been overshadowed by previous events. Her claim that she had no inkling about the Dowler hacking will, I’m sure, be analysed in the coming days. As will the fact that she confirmed that hiring Coulson was George Osborne’s idea. Thanks for reading.

19.15 Brooks stumbles when she said that she did not approve Andy Coulson’s salary being subsidised by NI. She denies that that is the case, and says that the New Statesman‘s story is wrong.

19.11 “I’ve read many allegations about my relationship with David Cameron, including going horse-riding with the Prime Minister. I have never been horse-riding with the Prime Minister.” Brooks says she does not know the source of this allegation. I do. It was Hugh Grant’s piece in the New Statesman.

18.59 Rebekah Brooks using the present tense when talking about being Chief Executive at News International.

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18.51 Brooks claims that the “suggestion” that Dowler’s phone was hacked was “unknown” to her. She obviously missed the Yates inquiry and the Hugh Grant article, which both suggested that Dowler’s phone may have been hacked.

18.49 Brooks denies saying that the phone-hacking scandal will end with Alan Rusbridger “on his knees begging for mercy”.

18.40 Going back to Brooks’s comments on the Dowler story (18.25). She claims that the first she knew about it was when the Guardian broke the story last week. The allegation, however, appeared much earlier in Hugh Grant’s piece on phone-hacking for the New Statesman back in April. We’re quite sure that News International read this piece very thoroughly.

Hugh Grant Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
Paul McMullen Yeah. Yeah. It’s more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah – friends and family is something that’s not as easy to justify as the other things.

The allegations surrounding Milly Dowler had been floating around for a long time. That Rebekah Brooks knew nothing of them is surprising.

18.30: MPs seem to be getting irritated at her insistence that she knew nothing about it. “I find it incredible that as editor, you knew so little”. She says that “no-one in their right mind” would sanction such a thing and says that she “really, really wants to understand what happened”.

18.25: Question: When were you first aware that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked? “Monday — or was it the Monday before? Whenever the story broke in the media.” She says her initial reaction was shock and disgust, and that the first thing she did was to write to the Dowlers to apologise and offer a full investigation. She says she still finds it “staggering to believe” that the NotW had anything to do with it.

18.20: Brooks is asked to paint a picture of how a newspaper like the News of the World goes about putting together such a big story as the Milly Dowler case, which broke under her editorship. She says a small percentage of the information that comes to reporters makes it into the paper, and there are many layers — reporter, assistant editor, news editor, editor, and lawyers.

But would it be valid to suggest that the editor would sign off any story because it is so sensitive? She says “yes” — where the information came from and the veracity of it would be overseen closely. However, she says the story ran for a very long time — nine years.

She places the law in the context of her campaign for “Sarah’s law”. “If I had a particular extra involvement in any of those stories, it would have been on the basis that I was trying to campaign for readers’ rights.”

18.17: Why was News International paying Mulcaire and Coulson’s legal fees during the Tommy Sheridan case? “Mulcaire’s legal fees were paid when he was a co-defendant in the civil cases.”

She says she is not aware of any payments to Scottish police forces.

18.13: Brooks is asked about the decision to sacrifice so many jobs at the NotW. She says what she meant is that once you have broken your trust with readers, there isn’t much going back, and that staf will understand in the weeks and months to come why management made the decision they made.

18.11: Now we get to the point Mensch has been moving towards — Brooks’ previous comments implied knowledge of these widespread practices. If she knew about these things going on at other papers, how could she claim ignorance about her own papers? Brooks says she can say “absolutely” that the Sun is a “clean ship”.

18.09: Paul Dacre said yesterday the Mail has never published a story because of illegal hacking — yet Mensch has totted up 1387 transactions with private investigators. Is this evidence of a widespread practice? She is keen to press Brooks on this point of whether the practice was endemic in all newspapers. Brooks isn’t obliging: “I’m not in a position to comment on other newspaper groups”.

18.08: Louise Mensch is asking her about her 2003 statement to MPs that she had made payments to police. She accepts that Brooks can’t make specific allegations because of the ongoing criminal investigation. “Straight afterwards, my comment was clarified,” says Brooks. “I can say that I have never paid a policeman myself, and I have never knowingly sanctioned a payment to a police officer. I was referring to various crime editors on Fleet Street discussing payments to police officers. I was referring to that wideheld belief — not widespread practice. In my experience, the information that police give comes free of charge.”

18.02: Do you have any regrets, Brooks is asked. “The idea that Milly Dowler’s phone was accessed is as abhorrent to me as it is to everyone else,” she replies. “We are endeavouring — or they are now, I’ve left the company — to investigate, but of course I have regrets.”

18.01: “My use of private investigators was entirely legitimate”, to obtain details of paedophiles in relation to Sarah’s Law. She says that she now accepts the NotW used them for illegal means too.

17:59: Mulcaire had a legitimate contract with News of the World — as the judge in the 2006 case said repeatedly, says Brooks. Now she is being asked about Jonathan Rees, and claims she didn’t know about him until she saw the Panorama programme, like everyone else. “Do you believe he carried out illegal practices for the NotW?” “I don’t know. I don’t know what he did. I’m sorry”. She is still visibly nervous.

17.58: According to the BBC, Downing Street is about to announce that Neil Wallis was informed in advising Andy Coulson before the election. More on this follows.

17.56: Brooks previously said she did not remember meeting Glenn Mulcaire. She is asked about this and reconfirms that she does not remember meeting him. She says she first heard his name in 2006. Asked whether any information from Mulcaire was passed to her, she repeats: “There were other private investigators I did know about, but he wasn’t one of them. I did not hear his name until 2006”.

17.51: Brooks is asked whether she was lied to by staff and says she doesn’t want to infer guilt while a criminal proceeding is on-going.

17.43 Rebekah Brooks is now in the hot-seat. She looks nervous – understandably, if how the previous session ended is anything to go by. Also, here is a rather wonderful account of the attack.

What you might not have seen is the full instinctive and furious reaction of Mr Murdoch’s wife, Wendi. Having sat through the evidence unsmiling, she moved faster than anyone else. First, she swung a slap at her husband’s attacker. She followed up by picking up the plate and trying to strike him with it. And then she moved back to her husband. Sitting on the table before him, she started to clear the foam from his face, sometimes embracing him, holding his bald head in her arms.

17.30 The chairman apologises for the “wholly unacceptable” behaviour of the attacker and brings the session to a close.

17.29 Wendi Deng defending her husband.



17.26 Rupert Murdoch reiterates his line that this is “the most humble day of his career”. He apologises once more to the victims of phone-hacking. Murdoch defends his 52,000 employees and 200 newspapers. “At no time do I recall being as sickened after hearing what the Dowler family had to endure, nor do I recall being as angry.” He thanks the Dowlers for letting him apologise in person. Murdoch continues: “Saying sorry is not enough”.

17.24 Tom Watson asks the final question: why did NI pay such a large amount in the Taylor and Clifford case. Murdoch maintains that he had not previously seen the transcript of any hacked conversations. Mr Watson finishes on a good-natured note: “Mr Murdoch, your wife has a good left hook.”

17.17 Mensch asks whether NoW journalists felt entitled to blag and hack because everyone else in Fleet Street was. Mensch finishes by asking about Hinton and suggests that Rupert Murdoch should resign. Surprisingly Murdoch does not agree.

17.11 After all that excitement, the committee is continuing, in front of a near empty room. The only people elft are those close to the Murdochs, including Rupert’s wife/bodyguard Wendi Deng.

17.09 The proper name of the protester who attacked Rupert Murdoch is Jonathan May-Bowles. According to UKuncut’s Twitter feed, it was not a UKuncut action and May-Bowles was acting alone.

BREAK: NS can reveal that Murdoch protester is Jonny Marbles of @ukuncut.

Here is his tweet before he launched his attack:

It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat

16.57 Wendi Deng leapt in “like a praying mantis”, according to my colleague.

16.53 The sitting has been suspended and my feed has been cut. An intruder burst into the Select Committee, in an attempted attack on Rupert Murdoch. Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s wife appeared to attack the intruder.

16.52 Here comes Louise Mensch.

16.50 James Murdoch says that the things that went on at News of the World “were bad”. He then confirms that the sky is blue, and that he is called James. He says it was the “right thing” for the NoW to close.

16.46 Rupert Murdoch on senior politicians: “I wish they’d leave me alone.” Murdoch says that the politician he saw most was Brown, when he was poltician. He says that their kids would play together. Seems genuinely sad when he said that he wants to “pull things back together” with Brown.

16.43 Damian Collins asks whether the cutlure at News International made law-breaking journalism more likely. Rupert Murdoch says that, no, it did not.

16.43 Phone-hacking and bribing the police have “no place” in his news organisation, according to James Murdoch.

16.42 Rupert Murdoch brings up the issue of MPs expenses and the Telegraph but then says that MPs should be paid a lot more. That won the panel round.

16.41 “I do believe that investigative journalism leads to a more transparent and open society.”

16.38 “Do you regret that News Corp has become a family organisation?” asks Keen “When the heasd of BSkyB job became available, several people applied, including my son.” Rupert Murdoch says that James went through the same selection process as all the other potential candidates. Keen questions whether News Corp being a family firm made the issue of hacking more difficult to deal with. Murdoch says – surprise, surprise – “no”.

16.34 Discussing Sky Italia, Rupert Murdoch describes Silvio Berlusconi as a “pretty tricky competitor”.

16.31 Alan Keen asks James Murdoch to summarise his career working for News Corp. Keen could have looked at Murdoch’s wikipedia page instead.

16.29 “You either haven’t grasped the point or you’re not reading your own newspapers.” Paul Farrely gives James Murdoch the first slapdown of the committee.

16.28 The committee is running way over schedule. It’s 4.30 and there are still three more MPs with questions to ask.

16.25 Some people on the internet have too much time on their hands. Check out the new search engine: Ask Murdoch!

16.21 Why did John Chapman leave the organisation – “mutual interests”, replies Murdoch,

16.18 The Independent reports that Mulcaire’s contract makes NI foot all of his legal bills. See 16.03.

16.15 James Murdoch is very fluent now. Paul Farrely is quizzing him on Harbottle and Lewis. Murdoch says that he can’t comment on what happened before he joined News International.

16.13 James Murdoch plays the police investigation card to avoid answering a question. “We have to allow the police to conduct their investigation.”

16.12 I ran to get a can of coke and asked my colleague what I had missed. “Stonewall, stonewall, stonewall,” she said.

16.06 Rupert Murdoch said that he “would like to” cut off Mulcaire’s fees. Murdoch says he will cut off Mulcaire’s fees, provided it would not breach a contract.

16.03 Have you been paying Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees? James Murdoch admits that “certain legal fees were paid for by the company”. Murdoch says he was “surprised and shocked by this”. Paul Farrely suggests that the fees were paid for to buy Mulcaire’s silence.

16.01 James Murdoch says that the suffering of the News of the World’s victims is a far bigger deal than the closure of the newspaper itself.

15.57 Both Brooks and Hinton asked to leave, according to Rupert Murdoch. Why did he not accept Brooks’s resignation the first time she offered it. “I believe her, I trusted her and do trust her” Why did he accept the resignation the second time? “She insisted.” Murdoch will not tell the committee how much Brooks and Hinton were paid when they left. Hinton’s package, however, he concedes would have been “substantial.”

15.56 Who gave Tom Crone the boot? Rebekah Brooks, says James Murdoch.

15.53 Shares in News Corp are up, despite Rupert Murdoch’s shakey performance. Is his performance sturdier than we think, or are the markets assuming that Murdoch will leave?

15.50 James Murdoch is asked why Clive Goodman’s legal fees were paid for by News International. Murdoch claims that it is “customary” to pay legal expenses of employees.

15.48 Piers Morgan talks about his experience of having Rupert Murdoch as a boss, seemingly backing up what Rupert Murdoch said earlier:

@piersmorgan Rupert called me every week for 18ms on News of the World – rarely asked about anything but what stories we had that week. #Murdoch

15.47 James Murdoch says he “stands by” his decision to pay off Clifford and Taylor.

15.42 Murdoch is asked how often he speaks to his editors. “Seldom,” he replies. He says he speaks to the editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editor quite often as they work in the same building. I wonder what Harry Evans is thinking in the audience. . .

15.39 The New Statesman just got a mention! Kevin Maguire asked whether it was possible that News International were subsidising Coulson wages while he was in Downing Street.

15.37 Murdoch seems to be arguing that the Taylor and Clifford settlements of £700,000 and £1m were reasonable.

15.33 Colin Myler and Tom Crone both told Murdoch to settle on the Taylor case, during the first half of 2008. Myler and Crone said in 2009 that they had received external counsel before they, in turn, gave Murdoch the advice to settle.

15.30 Both the Murdochs deny that News International has “immediate” plans to set up another Sunday tabloid. Immediate is very much the key word there.

15.28 Murdoch launches a defence of the press. “This country does greatly benefit from having a competitive press and therefore a very transparent society. That is sometimes very inconvenient for people.” He’s bashing the table again.

15.28 If anybody wants to follow News Corp’s share price during the Select Committee, go here.

15.25 Twitter seems to be fed up with some of the questioning so far.

@Bobster34 The intelligent MP’s are in in villas in Tuscany.

Tom Watson had both Rupert and James on the run (or at least baging on the table); Sheridan and Coffey, however, have failed to illicit any real response.

15.21 How is it possible to transfer cash to people who don’t invoice you, or who are not employees of News Corp, asks Coffey. James Murdoch defends use of cash to pay people sometimes working as journalists. Coffey asks whether travellers cheques were ever used to pay for work — a story in Private Eye this morning hinted that they might have been.

15.18 Therese Coffey asks about the Taylor settlement. James Murdoch replies “Thank you, it’s a good question.” Murdoch gives a fluent, thorough answer. Murdoch said that he was not involved “directly” in the negotiations about the settlement. Rupert Murdoch points out that James had only been with the company for “a few weeks”. James says it was a “few months”.

15.15 NotW was shut down after a discussion with Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and senior News Corp executives. Murdoch says that it was not a commercial decision to close NotW. “Far from it,” Murdoch says.

15.14 Is HMRC investigating News Corp? “Not to my knowledge,” says James Murdoch.

15.12 Does Rupert Murdoch accept responsibility for what happened? “No.” Instead he says the Murdoch offers his support to Les Hinton. “I have worked with Mr Hinton for 52 years and I would trust him with my life.”

15.09 James Murdoch is acting more and more like his father’s lawyer. He seems riled by the trivial nature of Sheridan’s questioning.

15.07 Murdoch says that he has never put any pre-conditions on his support for various political parties. He claims that the only thing he and Blair argued about was the Euro.

15.05 Jim Sheridan takes over the questioning. He asks why Murdoch entered the back door of 10 Downing Street after the last general election. Murdoch replies, “I was asked to”. Is that strange, Sheridan asks. “Yes,” Murdoch replies. Murdoch says that Cameron thanked him for the support during the election. Murdoch points out that Brown showed him in through the back door many times too. The audience sniggers. Murdoch’s wife in the front row, however, does not.

15.02 Why did you risk the livelihoods of 200 people, rather than going after the people responsible, such as Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch asks Tom Watson. Rupert Murdoch explains that when a business closes, people lose their jobs. He explains that he closed NotW due to the illegality of some of its behaviour.

15.00 James Murdoch says that it would be easier for “chronological questions” to be addressed to him, not his father. Tom Watson bats him down, politely, and continues questioning Rupert Murdoch. James Murdoch seems annoyed at the line of questioning.

14.59 Watson claims that Murdoch knew that the “one rogue reporter line was false” in January of this year. Murdoch says, after a pause, that he forgets the date he knew that the line was false.

14.57 Murdoch was “shocked, appalled and ashamed” when he heard about the Milly Dowler case.

14.55 Watson asks whether Rupert Murdoch was informed about the payments to Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor. Rupert Murdoch says “No”.

14.52 Rupert Murdoch is saying “no” a lot, and redirecting questions towards his son. Watson does not want this to happen. “I’ll come to you,” Watson says to Murdoch junior.

14.51 Watson asks why nobody told Rupert Murdoch about the blackmail allegations. Murdoch gruffly deadbatts the question – he seems to do everything gruffly.

14.50 Watson asks what Rupert Murdoch did personally in light of the phone-hacking allegations. Murdoch said he spoke to Hinton about it, in 2006.

14.47 Tom Watson asks Rupert Murdoch if he was initially misled over phone hacking. Murdoch agrees that he was. Watson asks why NI did not investigate paying police officers. Murdoch goes off on a tangent, explaining that most employees of News Corp. are honourable, bashing his fist on the table, while doing so.

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14.46 The Committee chairman asks whether Hinton, Brooks or Crone had knowledge of phone hacking, and if that was the reason . James Murdoch sounds flustered for the first time. “There is no evidence today that I have seen of any wrongdoing [on their part].”

14.43 Murdoch Jnr says that it is “with regret” that News International – however unintentionally – misled the house.

14.39 Rupert Murdoch speaks: “This is the most humble day of my life.” That’s all of tomorrow’s frontpages sorted, then.

14.38 James Murdoch starts by apologising to the victims of phone-hacking. “It is our determination to put things right”, says Murdoch junior.

Welcome to the live blog of James and Rupert Murdoch’s appearence in front of the Select Committee.