Parliament took centre stage today in the phone hacking scandal when Rebekah Brooks answered MPs’ questions about phone hacking. Earlier, Rupert and James Murdoch gave their testimonies.
19.30: Nearly five hours after we began, we have finally finished this afternoon’s testimony from Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs to the culture, media and sport select committee. Here’s what happened:
- All three offered apologies for what happened at the NotW. Rupert Murdoch called it “The most humble day of my life.”
- RM initially struggled under the questioning, failing to hear some of the questions and claiming not to have been in touch with his newspapers very much.
- James Murdoch gave long and complex answers to many of the questions, but in essence, he said he knew nothing about how widespread phone hacking was. He defended the company’s payment to Gordon Taylor, an alleged hacking victim, saying it was based on legal advice that it would lose its civil case.
- JM also admitted there had been internal discussions in News International about setting up a “Sun on Sunday”.
- RM admitted to paying the legal expenses of Andy Coulson, Clive Goodman and even Glenn Mulcaire at various stages, including for the 2006 hacking trial and the Tommy Sheridan trial.
- Both RM and JM emphasised the failings of their external lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, who claimed there was no evidence of phone hacking happening any more widely than by Clive Goodman.
- Most dramatically, the hearing was interrupted when a protester tried to push a custard pie into RM‘s face. He was repelled by police and Wendi Deng, RM‘s wife.
- Rebekah Brooks said she knew nothing about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked until she read it in the Guardian.
- RB said she went to Number 10 more under Blair and Brown than under Cameron.
- RB refuted the idea that she pushed Andy Coulson into his job as Tory communications director. She said the idea came from George Osborne.
So who won and who lost today?
James Murdoch He was smooth, he was corporate, he didn’t say anything he shouldn’t have. He was also evasive and often nonsensical, but he stuck well to his brief.
Rebekah Brooks Came across well: was softly spoken and humble, while also vigorously denying any knowledge of criminal activity.
Wendi Deng Repelled an attacker, and was praised by Tom Watson for her left hook.
Tom Watson Got the tone spot on. Calm but insistent, with specific and forensic questions. The best of the questioners.
Rupert Murdoch Looked all over the place. Struggled to hear some questions, didn’t seem to understand others. At times, however, he was refreshingly candid, such as when he admitted that Les Hinton might have authorised paying the legal costs of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. That might get him in trouble though.
Harbottle & Lewis The lawyers brought in by News International were named again and again as the organisation that failed to follow up on evidence of widespread hacking. The firm is under a duty of confidentiality however, and cannot respond.