Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run an international company because he showed “willful blindness” to the extent of phone-hacking at the News of the World, a devastating report by MPs has concluded.
Telegraph UK | May 1, 2012
The News Corporation chairman “turned a blind eye” to what was going on at News International as it sought to “cover up wrongdoing”, the culture, media and sport committee said.
The culture of cover-up “permeated from the top throughout the organisation”, the report says, “and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International”.
“Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” it adds, and together with his son James should take “ultimate responsibility” for the scandal.
Top executives including Les Hinton, the former chief executive of News International, lied to the committee and News International as a whole showed “blatant contempt” for the select committee by seeking to mislead it.
Witnesses who gave evidence to the committee about phone-hacking could now be “punished”, the report says, by being summoned before Parliament to apologise – something which has not happened for more than 50 years.
The committee’s 121-page report, published this morning, pulls no punches in its damning criticism of News Corp’s most senior executives.
The former NI chairman James Murdoch, it says, showed “wilful ignorance” of what was going on under his nose; Mr Hinton was “complicit in the cover-up”; the News of the World’s last editor, Colin Myler, and its former head lawyer, Tom Crone, “answered questions falsely” when they gave evidence and Rebekah Brooks, the former NI chief executive, “should accept responsibility” for what happened, even if she was unaware of how far it went.
The report, which focuses on whether witnesses misled the committee, in the light of evidence which has emerged since a previous report into hacking was published, does not reserve its criticism entirely for News Corp.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, and John Yates, the former acting deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard, both “bear culpability” for “failing to ensure” that evidence held by the Yard was properly investigated in the years following the 2007 conviction of Clive Goodman, the former NoW royal editor, and private detective Glenn Mulcaire, for voicemail interception.
The Metropolitan Police as a whole “had no interest or willingness to uncover the full extent of the phone-hacking which had taken place”, the report says.
Surrey Police, meanwhile, were criticised for having “sat on” the knowledge that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler for 10 years, and doing nothing about it.
But it is the report’s excoriating criticism of Rupert Murdoch that will have the most impact both here and internationally.
Last week Mr Murdoch admitted to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that there had been a “cover-up” which he said came from “within the News of the World” and involved at least one lawyer and other senior people who he declined to name.
The committee, however, lays the blame squarely at Mr Murdoch’s door.
The report says: “On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications.
“This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International.
“We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
James Murdoch claimed in evidence to the committee that he did not read a warning about phone hacking going further than Goodman when it was emailed to him in 2008 during negotiations to pay compensation to Gordon Taylor, a victim of hacking.
The report said it was “simply astonishing” that James and Rupert Murdoch claim not to have known about it until December 2010.
Nor is the report likely to be the end of Parliament’s bad news for the Murdoch empire; because of the ongoing police investigation and possibility of criminal charges against some of those who have been arrested, the committee will publish a supplementary report “when all criminal proceedings are finished”.
Hence there is virtually no mention of Andy Coulson, the former NoW editor and ex-Downing Street communications chief, who is currently on bail, or of his evidence to the committee.
The report states that Les Hinton, who has been Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man for half a century, “misled the committee in 2009 by not telling the truth about payments to Clive Goodman and his role in authorising them, including the payment of his legal fee”.
Mr Goodman was given a pay-off totalling of £243,000 by the NoW despite being jailed for a criminal offence, which the report suggests was to buy his silence.
Mr Hinton also “misled” the committee about the extent of his knowledge of phone-hacking going beyond one “rogue reporter”.
Mr Crone and Mr Myler also “misled the committee by answering questions falsely” about their own knowledge of the extent of hacking.
The report goes on: “Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth.
“Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they professed they would do after the criminal convictions.
“In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, NI and its parent company News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors – including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch – should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.”
As a result of the “false evidence” to the committee, it was “prevented from exposing the true extent of phone-hacking” when it produced its previous report in 2010.
“The behaviour of NI and certain witnesses in this affair demonstrated contempt for [the select committee system] in the most blatant fashion,” it goes on.
“We note that it is for the House to decide whether a contempt has been committed, and, if so, what punishment should be imposed.”
Although the evidence was not taken on oath, “witnesses are required to tell the truth to committees…we will table a motion inviting the House to endorse our conclusions about misleading evidence”.
If the Commons passes a motion concluding that any of the witnesses were in contempt of Parliament, they could be called to the bar of the House to apologise – something which is not thought to have happened since 1956.
The committee called on NI to publish a confidential report prepared by the criminal law firm Burton Copeland, which carried out an internal investigation into hacking and which has never been made public, despite the company publishing another report by a second law firm.
Rupert Murdoch was asked during his appearance before Lord Justice Leveson to waive client confidentiality so the report could be published.
The article was written by Gordon Rayner.