24 Apr 2012

LIVE BLOG: Murdochs at the Leveson Inquiry

James Murdoch appears before the Leveson Inquiry today, ahead of his father Rupert who will give evidence for two days on Wednesday and Thursday. Murdoch Jnr is due up before the Inquiry between 10am and 4.30pm. We’ll be live blogging all the action here and you can have your say on the day’s events as they unfold in the box below.


James Murdoch appears before the Leveson Inquiry, ahead of his father Rupert who will give evidence for two days on Wednesday and Thursday. With Murdoch Jnr facing five hours of questioning, we’ll be live blogging all the action here and you can have your say on the day’s events as they unfold in the box below.

Key points:
– Emails between Jeremy Hunt‘s Special Adviser and Mr Murdoch’s adviser reveal the media minister was “on side” for the BSkyB bid according to the Inquiry; it is alleged that Mr Hunt’s office passed “absolutely illegal” information about the bid to News Corp. Mr Murdoch maintains this was a joke, denying knowledge of many of the emails and insisting that Mr Hunt was not a “cheerleader” for the company.
– Murdoch reveals he discussed The Sun’s endorsement of David Cameron with the PM in the run-up to the election.
– He also reveals that in December 2010 he had a “tiny conversation” about the BSkyB bid with Mr Cameron at Rebekah Brooks’ house.

16.15 Lord Leveson signals the end of questioning for Murdoch – who has faced five hours of questioning in total from both Robert Jay QC and Lord Leveson. The latter refers us to the Inquiry’s website for a copy of James Murdoch’s witness statement and copies of the explosive emails written by Fred Michel, alongside his witness statement.

16.12 Number 10 is said to have “full confidence” in Jeremy Hunt, who is reportedly not considering resigning.

16.02 Murdoch jokes that regulation of news on the internet is “above my pay grade”; Lord Leveson replies: “I doubt it”.

15.48 Regarding the regulation of the press, Murdoch says he has “cause for reflection” after being the subject of so much of it himself in the last year.

15.39 In July Murdoch was given private information about a meeting between David Cameron and Mr Hunt, during which they discussed setting up two public inquiries (following the outcry over the hacking into Milly Dowler’s phone and the subsequent closure of the News of the World), one of which was the Leveson Inquiry itself, the other was abandoned.

15.30 An email from Michel in early March 2011 says that Salmond called to note “Sun is now keen to back the SNP at the election” and that Salmond will “support” the Sky bid.

15.15 Break Reports of bookies no longer taking bets on Jeremy Hunt’s exit from the cabinet.

15.13 Email from Michel says Alex Salmond’s adviser will help put pressure on Hunt if needed. Murdoch insists there was no connection between Salmond’s support for the BSkyB bid and Scottish Sun’s support of Salmond’s party, the SNP.

15.02 Gasps in court as email is shown revealing that Hunt’s office gave Murdoch’s people “absolutely illegal ;)” access to information about the bid. Murdoch says the “wink” indicates it is a joke. On January 25, 2011 Hunt’s office emails: “JH believes we are in a good place tonight”.

14.47 Hunt’s office tells News Corp “it is almost game over for the opposition” in the Sky bid.

14.40 Further evidence given of contact between Mr Hunt’s SpAd Adam Smith and News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel – but crucially after Mr Hunt was put in charge of the Sky bid. News Corp given insight into private conversations between Ofcom and Hunt.

14.35 Michel’s emails state that Nick Clegg’s office was “absolutely furious” with Cable for saying he had “declared war” on the Murdochs.

14.27 Michel reports back that he had a “very good debrief” with Hunt, after Ofcom flagged up issues with the Sky bid, again indicating Hunt was siding with News Corp over the bid. Murdoch says it was six months into the process and he took any contact with politicians “with a pinch of salt”.

14.24 Michel’s email said “to approach any meeting with Lord Oakeshott as a proxy for a discussion (with Cable)” about BSkyB. Further emails stated that he “will have a session with Hunt’s adviser next Wednesday”, adding that the minister asked for “relevant documents privately”.

14.11 More on contact with Mr Hunt. Emails from Michel show the media minister was “very frustrated” after being warned by the Permanent Secretary not to meet Murdoch.

14.00 Leveson Inquiry reconvenes. Mr Jay reads out emails from Fred Michel regarding contact with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond; “Salmond keen to put issues to Cable and will brief Scottish press on economic importance of News Corp”.

13.15 Labour MP Tom Watson, one of News International’s chief critics in parliament, said Mr Murdoch’s evidence was “fascinating”. “I think what will probably concern parliamentarians from this morning’s session is the degree of contact between special advisers and executives at the company,” he told BBC Radio 4.

13.00 break for lunch until 14.00

12.55 It emerges that News Corp lobbyist, Fréd Michel, contacted Lord Oakeshott about the bid in an effort to reach Vince Cable.

12.45 The former editor of The Independent Simon Kelner tweets in response to Murdoch’s comments (see 12.20pm): @Simon_Kelner “Have never once been to a Murdoch summer or Christmas party. Unlike most of the political or media establishment.”

12.44 Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser told James Murdoch’s adviser that the UK government “would be supportive throughout” the BSkyB bid process in an email. Murdoch says he was “not copied in on this email”.

12.31 In response to Murdoch’s claim that he discussed the BSkyB bid with the PM in December 2010, Number 10 says it has no response, the Inquiry is “a public enquiry (that) should take its course”.

12.20 Murdoch denies “storming” into The Independent’s offices during the time of the election, arguing that he took issue with the paper’s adverts that read: “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election, you will”. He said he didn’t mean to make in the middle of the paper’s offices. “The Indepedent doesn’t have a reception area, or even a lock, you walk in and find yourself in the middle of the newsroom,” he said, adding that he sought out editor Simon Kelner to discuss how “upset and concerned” he was over the ads that he felt were a “personal attack” on his family. “He’d (Kelner) had hospitality from my family for years”, he added.

12.17 Murdoch discusses the politics of sport; “When we started to invest in English cricket, there was a political debate”. He adds that he played with a “straight bat”.

12.11 First big laughs from Murdoch as they discuss The Sun’s influence on the election. Murdoch tries to argue that the perspective of the big media moguls dominating the landscape with fawning politicans is anachronistic. Mr Jay responds; “One could never prove that because a newspaper supports a party it has an outcome on an election”.

12.07 Murdoch: “I haven’t actually spent that much time with politicians personally…the vast majority of my career has been making television”.

12.02 Asked if he is a close friend of George Osborne, Murdoch replies: “We have been friendly, I wouldn’t say I’m a close friend of his.” He reveals however that he and his family once went to Mr Osborne’s ‘grace and favour’ home.

11.57 Mr Jay says it’s obvious that the media minister Jeremy Hunt was on side for the BSkyB bid, Murdoch laughs at the suggestion the minister was a “cheerleader” but doesn’t accept the idea that Hunt made calls to Murdoch to “oil the wheels”.

11.46 Murdoch confirms that in December 2010 there was some discussion of the BSkyB bid at Rebekah Brooks’ home after Vince Cable was caught out vowing to wage “war on the Murdochs”.

“It was two days after Mr Cable showed acute bias”, says Murdoch. “There was a big question mark as to what was going forward but there was no discussion with Mr Cameron other than that (Mr Cable’s) behaviour had been unacceptable”. “It was a tiny side conversation…I include it here (in the witness statement) for completeness”, says Murdoch.

11.40 James Murdoch’s witness statement is published on the Leveson Inquiry website. Murdoch met Cameron in September 2009 “at The George” to discuss “The Sun’s proposed endorsement”.

Murdoch says it was made clear to Mr Cameron “by me” that after discussions with the editors of the NoW and the Sun and my father, the Conservatives would be endorsed by at the end of the conference season.

11.34 Murdoch admits he and David Cameron discussed the News Corp bid to buy BSkyB over Christmas dinner. Cameron has always refused to say if he had discussed the bid with Murdoch.

11.30 Break ends. Inquiry now moves to Murdoch’s meetings with Brown, Blair and Cameron. Murdoch says his meetings with Gordon Brown were more of a “social nature”. “He told me lots of things about the economy and the like,” he adds.

11.20 Leveson Inquiry stops for a short break.

Key points so far:
– Murdoch distances himself from the daily running of the News of the World – repeating that he was involved in the company’s strategy and only actually read the paper “from time to time”.
– He argues he wasn’t aware of the For Neville emails until 2010, and had no idea that “voicemail interception” was so widespread at the paper until Sienna Miller gave evidence at the Select Committee hearing in 2010 that confirmed a Guardian story of 2009 (that he was previously told “was a smear”).
– The settlement of the Gordon Taylor was left to Crone and Myler, Murdoch says he wasn’t aware of the amount of money invovled – £350,000. He reveals that the NoW legal budget stretched beyond £1m.

11.18 In the wake of the evidence given at the Select Committee hearing Murdoch says he realised the News of the World “must have been cavalier about risk, and I think that’s a huge regret. We have to have systems in place to make sure it doesn’t happen in future”.

11.23 As for The Guardian’s revelations in 2009, “I was told it wasn’t true and it was a smear”, says Murdoch. However, he realised the hacking was more widespread after Sienna Miller gave evidence at the Select Committee in 2010. “It caused me great concern, which is why I moved to reopen the investigation and I acted to suspend employees and get new lawyers”, he adds.

11.09 “By the time I arrived (in 2007)”, says Murdoch, “the whole issue of 2005/06 had been packed away”. He says the company looked into the allegations in 2009; and he would have got the same answers in 2008. “They came back and said these allegations aren’t true,” he said.

Mr Jay points out that in 2010 that Select Committee concluded it was impossible that Mr Goodwin had worked alone. “In the Select Committee evidence I was clear in my regret about that…we should have taken the evidence more seriously,” Murdoch admits.

10.59 The legal budget at News of the World was “a million and change” says Murdoch.

10.52 Murdoch says he was told the For Neville email was a direct link to Mr Mulcaire. He’s quizzed about his meeting with Mr Myler and Mr Crone about settling the Gordon Taylor case. Mr Jay puts it to Mr Murdoch that: “The truth is Mr Murdoch they were very keen to settle…there were serious risks to the reputation of the company”.

Murdoch replies: “That is not what they communicated to me…They did say that they had made attempts to settle the case already.”

10.42 If he’d known about the allegations, he would have “cut out the cancer” at NoW, says Murdoch. He adds that executives at the paper didn’t tell him about the extent of the hacking because: “I would say cut out the cancer and there was some desire not to do that”.

“There wasn’t a proactive desire to bring me up to speed on things,” he adds.

10.39 Murdoch says he had no knowledge of the For Neville emails until 2010 and that he wasn’t aware of Clive Goodman’s unfair dismissal claims – or Mr Goodman’s allegations that phone hacking was widespread.

10.35 Murdoch asked why widespread hacking at NoW wasn’t picked up, he tells the Inquiry: “It was the absence of those tings (controls) being done effectively”.

10.29 “I did not receive a briefing on the trial and conviction of Mr Goodman”, says Murdoch after insisting that he was not shown the For Neville emails.

10.25 Murdoch distances himself from the day-to-day management of NoW – repeats that he was involved in the company’s business strategy – adding that editors were not picked for their politics.

10.22 “In the end the profitability of the News of the World did not save it”, says Murdoch. Asked what readers loved about it, Murdoch reels off different sections including Fabulous magazine, before finally mentioning the paper’s famed “exclusives”.

10.15 Murdoch says the ethical risks were down to the editors at the NoW, but he was aware of the legal bills which were included in the budget.

10.13 As far as journalistic ethics were concerned Murdoch says he was given “strong assurance” that “intensive training” went on at NoW.  He tells the inquiry he read the News of the World “from time to time” and “tried to familiarise myself with The Sun”.

10.07 Murdoch says he had no reason to believe Myler (Colin Myler editor of News of the World) wasn’t being open with him when he first arrived in 2007.

10.04 James Murdoch says he resigned as chairman of BSkyB because he didn’t want to become a “lightening rod” for the company while the phone hacking scandal was taking hold of News of the World.

10am James Murdoch takes the stand at the Leveson Inquiry, giving his full name as James Rupert Jacob Murdoch. Mr Murdoch arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning in a black Range Rover with his brother Lachlan.

9am: Lookahead – Will the Murdochs’ evidence embarrass politicians?

Channel 4 News’ Home Affairs correspondent Andy Davies says prime ministers past and present may face “awkward moments”. Read more here.

LIVE BLOG: Murdochs at the Leveson Inquiry