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.
19.19: RB comes to an end, saying she would like to come back to the committee when she is not under any legal limitations.
19.16: RB repeats the assertion that the first she knew of Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked was when she read it in the Guardian. Tom Watson said it in parliament a long time before that – she is claiming that passed her by.
19.13: RB: “[David Cameron] is a neighbour and a friend. But at no point have we had a conversation that you would deem inappropriate.” She adds it was George Osborne’s idea to appoint Coulson, not Cameron’s or RB‘s.
19.12: RB: “I have never been horse riding with the prime minister. I don’t know where that story came from.”
19.07: RB never went to Downing Street under Cameron, but did so regularly under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: up to six times a year, she says. “Strangely it was under Lavbour prime ministers I was a regular visitor to Downing Street.”
19.02: Philip Davies refers to a report in the Evening Standard claiming Neville Thurlbeck was a police informant. That’s not quite true, says RB, he would have given information to officers, as would any crime correspondent. But that doesn’t make him an “informant”.
18.58: Therese Coffey asks if RB regrets any of her headlines given her spell in the public spotlight. It is unclear what that has to do with hacking – perhaps it is merely polticians trying to attack journalists post-expenses scandal.
18.51: Conservative Therese Coffey asks if RB did not ask where the information came from that the NotW published after hacking Milly Dowler’s phone. RB restates that she knew nothing about where the information came from. She adds that editors and lawyers wouldn’t have been told if it had come from hacking, as that wasn’t tolerated at the time.
18.49: Did RB call other editors to ask them to downplay the hacking story when it broke in 2009? She says she doesn’t remember doing so. Farrelly asks whether she recalls a conversation with Boris Johnson where she is said to have wanted this to finish with the Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, on his knees begging for forgiveness. RB: “Absolutely not.”
18.42: Did John Chapman, a company lawyer, ask Harbottle & Lewis to write a letter saying there was no fresh evidence in this case, Farrelly asks. RB: “I’m sure he would not have done that.” But she says when she and other executives saw the file of emails held by H&L, they felt it shed new light on the issue and handed it over to police. Farrelly says “Chapman has come out as the fall guy” from these sessions.
18.39: Farrelly asks whether she and Andy Coulson really knew nothing about hacking or payments to the police. She claims that from 2006-2009, she was editor of the Sun, and was “ringfenced” from the investigation.
18.36: RB tries to turn the tables on Farrelly, saying the Observer would have also used private investigators when he worked there, pre-2001.
18.33: Paul Farrelly asks whether there was a public interest defence in securing mobile phone numbers from police officers. She says she would have only got those numbers where there was a public interest, such as in tracking down suspected paedophiles.
18.29: RB: “I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would authorise, sanction or approve of the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler.”
18.28: This is the official Tory statement on Neil Wallis’ advice to the party:
There have been some questions about whether the Conservative Party employed Neil Wallis. We have double checked our records and are able to confirm that neither Neil Wallis nor his company has ever been contracted by the Conservative Party, nor has the Conservative Party made payments to either of them.
It has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. We are currently finding out the exact nature of any advice.
We can confirm that apart from Andy Coulson, neither David Cameron nor any senior member of the campaign team were aware of this until this week.
18.26: RB says she wrote to the Dowler family apologising as soon as she found out about that case of hacking. She says she finds the allegation “staggering”, but she does not deny it.
18.21: RB says that in 2003 she believed the press had exercised “huge caution” in the Milly Dowler and Soham cases. “Obviously if these allegations [of Milly Dowler's phone being hacked] are true, that would be appalling and contradict what I said.” She says the first she heard of the Dowler hacking was when the news broke in the Guardian two weeks ago. Her reaction, she says was “one of shock and disgust”.
18.16: RB is asked why News International paid Coulson and Goodman’s legal fees during the Sheridan trial, and Mulcaire when he was a co-defendant with Goodman. She says that agreement was in their contracts.
18.15: RB complains she has not been able to see Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, which police are using as the basis for their current investigation.
18.12: RB describes the scene when she went to close the NotW. She says journalists were “very sad and baffled”. But why did she say that when they saw what was coming, they would see why? She doesn’t answer directly, saying: “When you have broken trust with reader, there is no going back.”
18.10: RB claims that the information commissioner’s report “What price privacy?” changed Fleet Street practices. She claims: “The Sun is a very clean ship.”
18.08: Louise Mensch asks what RB meant when she said the NotW had paid police for information. She says she was referring to widespread stories of previous practices. She never herself paid or sanctioned payments to police.
18.03: The FT’s Alice Ross says:
MPs have a much more hostile tone with R Brooks than they did with the Murdochs.
17.56: Breaking news: Neil Wallis provided “unpaid advice” to his former boss, Andy Coulson, while the latter was in charge of communications for the Conservatives before the election. The Tories insist it had nothing to do with hacking, although they are checking to see what it was in relation to.
17.53: Watson asks who would have authorised payments to private investigators? She says the managing editor: she would not have necessarily known.
17.50: Tom Watson has begun the questioning, and asks RB how extensively she worked with private investigators at the Sun and NotW. RB: “The use of private detectives was a practice in Fleet Street in the late 1990s.” But she claims after a report from the information commissioner criticising press methods, this became much rarer.
17.47: RB says “We have had zero visibility” on phone hacking. In other words: we knew nothing.
17.45: RB: “Of course there were mistakes made in the past.” She insists that until she saw evidence of Ian Edmonson’s involvement in hacking, which was uncovered during the Sienna Miller case, she had no evidence of hacking by someone employed at the time at News International.
17.44: RB starts, predictably, by offering her own apology.
17.41: While we wait for RB, here is what has happened to the News Corp share price today:
17.31: And that’s it from the Murdochs. We have a five-minute break before Rebekah Brooks testifies. Keep your eyes on the Westminster blog.
17.30: This from the FT’s Ben Fenton:
Tom Watson tells Rupert M: your wife has a very good left hook. From where I sat six feet away, I wouldn’t argue with that.
17.28: This tweet is from Sky News’s Tim Gatt:
Colin Myler said that contrary to what the committee were told he had no part in commissioning, meeting with or reviewing Harbottle and Lewis or their work. And for complete clarity, the contents of the emails were never shared with him.
At the end of the inquiry Mr Myler was told by the Director of Human Resources Daniel Cloke: “Good news, there is no smoking gun or silver bullet in the emails.”
17.26: RM is being allowed to make a closing statement. He says he and JM are very sorry, and wants to make it right.
17.25: Tom Watson, probably the best questioner of the day, asks JM if he will release Gordon Taylor from his confidentiality clause. JM replies, slightly confusingly: “That is a hypothetical.”
17.23: Louise Mensch asks one of the best questions of the day: “Have you considered resigning?” RM: “No”. Mensch: “Why not?” RM: “Frankly I am the best person to run this company.”
17.19: JM has said he has “no evidence” that victims of 9/11 were hacked.
17.15: Wendi, Rupert and the custard pie:
17.14: We’ve got no idea if this is for real but here is a Twitter stream of someone calling himself Jonnie Marbles, who was apparently tweeting from the committee room right up to the moment of the attack on Rupert Murdoch. His last tweet was:
It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat
17.09: The questioning continues, but with an entirely different tone. Louise Mensch, the Conservative MP, tells RM it takes immense guts for him to continue to answer questions.
17.05: I am watching this on televsision, which is reporting that the hearing will reconvene without any press or public. Meanwhile the Murdoch lawyers have been remonstrating with the Commons authorities.
17.02: Ben Fenton, the FT’s chief media correspondent, gives us the definitive version of events from inside the committee room:
Rupert Murdoch pied by protester. His wife slaps protester. Then she picks up pie and shoves it in his face.
17.00: Wendi Deng, RM‘s wife, attacked the protester as he approached the Murdochs, and is shown swiping at him in the last footage before the cameras cut away.
16.59: The protester is outside the room with police officers with white matter on his face. A custard pie?
16.56: The last pictures from the committee appeared to show RM unhurt.
16.54: A demonstrator appears to have got into the committee meeting and perhaps even tried to attack RM. His wife Wendi jumped to his aid. The meeting is adjourned and the cameras cut away. Apparently a person has been led away in handcuffs.
16.48: RM sticks the knife into Gordon Brown after the latter’s blistering attack last week. He says he and GB were friends, their wives were friends, and their children played together. Hardly helps GB’s case that he hated buttering up to the Murdochs.
RM adds one of his best lines when asked about his contacts with prime ministers: “I wish they would leave me alone.” He is trying to shed the image of the puppet-master manipulating politicians for his own advantage.
16.45: This from Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the FT’s media editor:
Is JM channelling Donald Rumsfeld? “To my knowledge certain things were not known.”
16.43: RM is asked about the limits of investigative journalistic techniques, He tries to deflect attention onto the Daily Telegraph, which paid for the details of MPs’ expenses. He then holds up Singapore as a model society because their ministers get paid so much and are not tempted to cheat their expenses. It is irrelevant to the matter at hand, but it provokes a laugh – although it is not clear RM is kidding.
16.39: Alan Keen asks whether JM‘s promotions within the company are neoptistic. RM says when JM left BSkyB, lots of board members were disappointed because he had done such a good job. Keen seems almost apologetic in asking the question, and keeps calling RM “Mr Rupert”.
16.36: In one answer, JM has just used the phrases “thresholds of materiality” and “upstream”. A clever ruse or is he really so steeped in corporate jargon he cannot speak in any other way?
16.32: RM: “I may have been lax in not asking more, but it was such a tiny part of my business…”
16.27: JM‘s defence for not investigating further the scale of phone hacking is that the company was relying on the judgments of the police, the PCC and the company’s lawyers. MPs have not pushed him further on why executives relied on those three external bodies, when this was going on in their own company.
16.26: From Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of ft.com:
The search for human shields widens. Seems to me that James is placing quite a lot of blame on the lawyers for not uncovering the full scale of hacking in their earlier inquiry. It is clear the company would like us to place more blame on Harbottle & Lewis.
16.24: Farrelly asks RM if he asked Les Hinton whether he knew about the emails apparently found in the offices of Harbottle & Lewis containing evidence of payments to the police. RM says “No.” Farrelly: “Why not?” RM: “Sorry, which document?”
16.13: Labour’s Paul Farrelly asks about the files News International has handed over to police. JM says he can’t give that information. “I really believe we have to allow the police to conduct this investigation.”
16.11: Andrew Hill of the FT tweets:
Are David Hare and Lucy Prebble already dramatising this? The son-father-stepmother trio is ready-made for the stage.
16.03: How carefully crafted are these performances? JM is coming across as a slick corporate type (albeit long-winded and often evasive) while RM looks like a chairman whose day has passed. Could this be part of a strategy to ensure JM takes over from his father imminently?
16.00: John Gapper, of the FT, tweets:
Rupert Murdoch has suddenly woken up. Could we run the first half hour of questions by him again?
15.59: Philip Davies asks why RM eventually accepted Brooks‘ resignation. “She insisted,” he says. “She was in a state of extreme anguish.” But neither JM or RM will say how much the executives who have resigned were given as pay-offs.
15.58: Here is the FT’s latest news story on the hearings: http://on.ft.com/n5DfRv
15.53: Conservative Philip Davies asks why News International paid Clive Goodman’s legal fees when he was pleading guilty to a criminal offence (hacking). JM - once again – says he “has no knowledge of that”. But he says he was “surprised” to have found out that that happened.
Davies pushes him further: who agreed to pay that? JM says he doesn’t know: “It would have been the management of the legal cases… This would have been under legal advice.”
Eventually Davies gives up and starts asking RM. Would it have been Les Hinton? RM: “It could have been. Or it could have been the chief legal officer.”
15.50: Now this is interesting. One might expect given the unsure performance by RM that the News Corp share price might have fallen during this session. Nothing of the sort. The News Corp share price in mid-morning New York trading is up 4 per cent at $18.08.
15.46: When nervous, JM appears to revert to corporate speak. When referring to payments to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford, he starts calling them “pieces”.
15.43: RM is answering about how much he keeps contact with his editors in London. He says he sometimes contacts the NotW editor on a Saturday, and nearly always contacts the editor of the Sunday Times on a Saturday. He adds: “I’m not really in touch.” That statement sums up the content and tone of what he has said today.
15.40: Adrian Sanders, a Lib Dem MP, asks about reports that Andy Coulson’s wages at Number 10 were subsidised by News International. He says he has “no knowledge” of that.
15.37: Key moments so far:
- JM and RM both began on a contrite note, RM telling MPs: “This is the most humble day of my life.”
- RM has come under sustained questioning, but is struggling. He has not heard many questions, and others he has simply looked like he doesn’t understand. He has claimed not to know a lot about the internal workings of News International papers.
- JM has defended the payments to Gordon Taylor, an alleged victim of phone hacking, saying News International was advised they would have lost the case.
- JM admitted the company is considering setting up the Sun on Sunday to replace the NotW.
15.33: JM is defending the settlement made with Gordon Taylor about allegations his phone was hacked. He says he would do the same again, but this time, he would contact the police and relevant authorities to let them know what had been discovered, and would have “moved faster” to get to the bottom of the issue.
15.30: Chairman John Whittingdale asks about the possibility of launching a Sun on Sunday to replace the NotW. JM admits this option has been discussed within the company, but is not News International’s priority right now.
15.28: Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of ft.com:
The contrast between Rupert and James is fascinating. James is itching to get in there and scrap with the MPs, all suppressed anger and outrage. Rupert is removed from the facts and hesitant.
15.27: This is from Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor:
This is really like a Senate hearing. Not quite Iran contra. Tom Watson’s understated questioning without showboating was excellent.
15.20: Did JM know about the payments to people who had been hacked? He says not, and that to require the authorisation of News Corp executives it would have taken several millions of pounds. JM adds it is customary around the world to try and reach out of court settlements for civil cases.
15:16 From Robert Shrimsley, of ft.com:
A line from the prepared statement that JM was not allowed to read out: “I hope our contribution to Britain will one day also be recognised.”
15: 16 Question to RM: Who made the decision to close NotW? It was a result of a discussion between RM, JM, Brooks, senior executives and then rubber stamped by the News Corp board.
15:15 Sheridan: Is the company under investigation by the SFO, the FSA or HRMC? JM has no knowledge about that.
15:12 From Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of ft.com:
The whole defence of Murdoch senior is that he was let down by the people he trusted. He accepts fault of his company and is duly humbled but sees no personal responsibility.
15:09 RM says Tony Blair’s trip to Hayman Island in 1997 to visit RM was organised by “Mr Cameron”. Quickly corrects to “Mr Campbell”.
An update on the main points of the hearing so far:
- JM began by apologising for the hacking scandal
- RM added: “This is the most humble day of my life”
- JM then tackled a series of questions about who knew what about hacking and why MPs weren’t told at the time of the last inquiry that it was more prevalent than just Clive Goodman with a set of long answers that never quite answered the question
- RM has since come under sustained questioning about the internal workings of his company, but has struggled to hear questions, provided one word answers and claimed not to know some senior journalists.
15:06 Jim Sheridan takes over questioning: why did RM enter the back door of No 10 after the election. “Because I was asked to,” says RM.
15:04 Watson asks why RM closed the NotW: was it because of criminality? RM says “We had broken our trust with our readers.” But he cannot hear about half of the questions Watson is asking.
15:02 One of the most painful parts of the questioning came when Watson asked RM about Neville Thurlbeck, the former NotW chief reporter who was arrested as part of the hacking investigation. He was reported to have seen transcripts of hacked conversations. But RM did not even seem to know who Thurlbeck was.
From the FT’s Andrew Hill:
14.58: The FT’s Robert Shrimsley says:
Extraordinary to see Rupert Murdoch’s demeanour. He is coming across as frail, hesitant, out of touch, with no mastery of the detail. Perhaps he is being ultra cautious but if this is is the real him, then this is a Wizard of Oz moment; the curtain has been pulled back.
Others have suggested he is being clever to avoid answering questions, but shareholders surely will not be impressed by this.
14.53: Tom Watson is asking about the internal investigation carried out by the lawyers Harbottle and Lewis. RM seems to know nothing about that investigation, despite telling the WSJ a few days ago H&L had made “serious mistakes”. Several times JM tries to answer questions on his father’s behalf, but Watson stops him and keeps questioning RM, whose answers are becoming more stilted.
14.52: RM is under questioning by Labour’s Tom Watson. He is using the “I didn’t know” defence a lot, and looking quite shaky. His answers are rarely longer than one word. JM keeps trying to jump in, but getting brushed aside by Watson.
14.48: Rupert (RM) is now testifying. He says he was misled about the scope of phone hacking, but doesn’t know who misled him. On Rebekah Brooks’ comments that News of the World paid police officers for information, RM says he didn’t know anything about them at the time, and didn’t launch an investigation into them: not least because NotW was a small part of his media empire.
14.47: Did any of the recently departed executives: Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton or Tim Crone, know about phone hacking? JM says he has no evidence that that is the case.
14.44: JM says the length of time it took for the full facts to emerge is a matter of “deep frustration”. And he uses the legal defence for the first time, saying he can’t say who else hacked phones because of ongoing police investigations.
14.41: JM says the company’s execs who told the committee last time that hacking was limited to just Clive Goodman were relying on the police investigation, the PCC and an external legal opinion.
14.38: Whittingdale asks JM what he meant when he said parliament had been misled in the last inquiry. JM starts by saying “how sorry I am and how sorry we are to the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and their families”. Rupert jumps in to add: “This is the most humble day of my life.” A slightly jarring intervention, but clearly he something he was very keen to say.
14.35: James Murdoch (JM) wants to make an opening statement, but the committee will not let him. There is a brief interlude while protesters are cleared from the back of the room. And now we’re off.
14.28: Welcome to the FT’s live coverage of the appearance in front of a committee of MPs of Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.
Earlier this afternoon, Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates, the two officers at the top of the Met who have both resigned in the last three days, have been giving evidence to the home affairs select committee. From those sessions we have found out:
- John Yates said he told Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s chief of staff, about Neil Wallis’ employment at the Met, but Llewellyn told him not to tell Cameron for fear of compromising the PM.
- Of the 45 people who worked in the Met’s media office, 10 used to work for News International.
From Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the FT’s media editor:
While we wait for the drama to begin, here is what we published in the FT this morning by way of a curtain-raiser:
A day of classic political theatre is promised at Westminster on Tuesday as key protagonists in the phone-hacking scandal are set to appear before MPs at two parliamentary committees.
James Murdoch, flanked by his father Rupert, will face intense questioning from the media select committee after the chairman of News International admitted last week that parliament had been “misled” over phone hacking at the News of the World.
Referring to comments made by James Murdoch as he announced the closure of the News of the World, committee chairman John Whittingdale said: “The reason we have asked James Murdoch in particular is that he has publicly stated that we have been misled. We want to know who misled us.”