News International

James Murdoch as he arrives at the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the day when James Murdoch is giving evidence.

By Salamander Davoudi and Esther Bintliff in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times GMT.

NB: We refer to James Murdoch as James throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his father Rupert. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning James.

16.33 Wow that’s been a big day. We’re going to close the live blog for now but we’ll be back tomorrow morning just before 10am, for Rupert Murdoch’s appearance. In the meantime, FT.com will have all the news, analysis and comment you need. You can also investigate the documents mentioned during today’s proceedings here.

16.30 Members of the opposition Labour party are not being slow to voice their anger at the revelations today. Ivan Lewis, the former Labour culture spokesman – and Jeremy Hunt’s opposite number at a key time during the BSkyB bid - commented:

“Jeremy Hunt told me in parliament he was behaving in quasi judicial way. This cannot include off-record contact with any party.”

16.26 Labour MP Tom Watson – who has played a large role in investigating the phonehacking scandal, and is a vocal critic of the Murdochs and News Corp business practises – said in an interview with ITV news:

“I don’t think people knew the depths to which special advisors had been communicating with executives” at News International.

16.23 Over on the FT’s Business Blog, John Gapper focuses on the issue of whether newspaper proprietors get favourable treatment in business in return for publicly supporting politicians. He points out that the most telling moment on the subject today was when James described his anger at Simon Kelner, the editor of the Independent, who he clearly felt had betrayed the Murdoch family:

“I found Mr Kelner and I told him of my concerns, whether I used colourful language I will not dispute … I was particularly upset because Mr Kelner had been availing himself of the hospitality of my family for years.”

16.21 The prime minister’s spokesman said David Cameron has full confidence in Jeremy Hunt, reports Kiran Stacey from Westminster:

When asked if the PM had full confidence in Mr Hunt, a spokesman said he had. But he declined to say that Mr Cameron had full confidence in Mr Hunt’s handling of the BSkyB bid.

16.19 Jeremy Hunt has not tweeted today. However the first little bit of his update from yesterday – which coincided with the launch of the World Shakespeare festival – has a strange relevance today:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/Jeremy_Hunt/status/194426439305674752"] Read more

Kiran Stacey

It was only at the end of a marathon 3½-hour meeting of the culture, media and sport select committee that we got the most damning new revelation about News International’s behaviour over phone hacking.

Tom Crone, the company’s former legal manager, having already faced a barrage of accusatory questions from Tom Watson, finally answered one in the positive.

Yes, he had seen “one thing or two” about the private lives of lawyers acting for people claiming damages from NI after being hacked. And yes, that material had been collated by a freelance journalist being employed by NI itself. Read more

Jim Pickard

During the ongoing Commons debate on phone hacking David Cameron refused three times – pressed by Labour MP Dennis Skinner – to say whether he had had conversations with News International executives about the BSkyB while prime minister. He said only that he had had “no inappropriate conversations” with the company.

Separately he insisted that any meetings with NI during the period were not relevant because he had “asked to be excluded from the decision”. Read more

Kiran Stacey

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?

Winners:

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.

Losers:

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.

 

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Sir Paul Stephenson

Sir Paul Stephenson

Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation yesterday was a significant moment in the phone hacking affair: not only because of the fact of his resigning but because of what he said afterwards.

He made two subtle but important criticisms of the prime minister:

1) He said he had resigned in part for having employed Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, who has since been arrested, but did not have to resign from the NotW for his part in the scandal. He compared this to Andy Coulson, who had been forced to resign, but was also given subsequent employment – by the prime minister. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Hard on the heels of the lists of the prime minister’s meetings with media executives since last year’s election comes a similar list from Nick Clegg.

It shows how close he too was to News International, attending the company’s summer party and meeting Rebekah Brooks and James Harding (the Times’ editor) twice, as well as James Murdoch and Dominic Mohan, the editor of the Sun.

But he is much closer to the Independent, meeting their editor, Simon Kelner, and owner, Evgeny Lebedev, three times each.

Here is the full list: Read more

Kiran Stacey

The lists are out. We now know everyone who has been to Chequers since the election, and separately, every media figure the prime minister has met in that time.

Of interest:

  • James Murdoch has stayed at Chequers recently, and Rebekah Brooks stayed twice last year. (Incidentally, so has the Qatari prime minister – the only foreign dignitary to do so.)
  • We know that Cameron met Brooks over Christmas socially, but apparently there was another meeting in December – although we are not given details of where or when.
  • Rupert Murdoch was the first media figure to talk to Cameron after the election – but we already knew that.
  • Six out of Cameron’s first ten media meetings after winning the election were with people News International.

Of interest, but not mentioned in these lists: Andy Coulson stayed at Chequers in March, two months after quitting Number 10.

Here are the full details:

 Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Sitting through a stream of repetitive questions put to the prime minister on Wednesday, ears pricked when Steve Barclay, new intake high flyer and member of the powerful public accounts committee, asked David Cameron whether the rot spread beyond dodgy coppers (my way of putting it, not his) to other public services. He asked:

Will [the police investigation] consider others who provide stories, such as paramedics, accident and emergency doctors and prison governors and who might also be subject to corruption? Read more

… says, er. Sky News.

RTRS-NEWS CORP <NWSA.O> TO WITHDRAW BID FOR BSKYB <BSY.L>-SKY NEWS

Any chance of a statement, News Corp? Another PR disaster.

Update: 2.20 London time
8 minutes after the Sky revelation comes the RNS statement.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

A puppet of David Cameron dances around a man dressed as Rupert MurdochIt’s taken him a few weeks, but David Cameron is beginning to show signs of rising to the challenge phone hacking has posed to him him and his government.

In remarkably noisy and at time angry exchanges in the Commons during PMQs, the prime minister showed he has now found an answer for most of Labour’s questions. These include:

  • The public inquiry. All three parties now agree on this, and Cameron started the ball rolling today, announcing Lord Justice Leveson to head it.
  • Rebekah Brooks’ position. Saying he would have accepted her resignation is not the same as calling for her head, but it is as close as Cameron can feasibly get.
  • The BSkyB bid. Cameron still insts the legal processes have to be followed, but he now says he would like News Corp to drop the bid, telling them to “get their house in order”. To suggest Jeremy Hunt still has the freedom to accept the bid now seems unfeasible, but at least Cameron is on the side of public opinion.
  • Media regulation. He says this should be “independent” rather than Ed Miliband’s preferred “self-regulation”. This coud even put him ahead of the Labour leader in terms of where the public is on the issue.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

The string of allegations made by the Guardian about the ways in which News International reporters and investigators targeted Gordon Brown are extraordinary. They include:

  • Brown and his wife’s Sarah’s names appearing in Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook;
  • the hacking of Brown’s accountant’s computers to obtain personal financial information;
  • the conning of lawyers at top City firm Allen & Overy to hand over personal legal details;
  • the blagging of Abbey National employee’s to get Brown’s bank account details.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Westminster is in tumult. In the last hour, allegations of phone hacking, corruption and other journalistic misdeeds at News International have developed significantly.

Here is the latest:

Kiran Stacey

Andy Coulson, former head of communications to David Cameron in Number 10, has been arrested for phone hacking and corruption. This came less than an hour after a press conference at which David Cameron came close to calling for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation.

Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson (c) Getty Images

11.56: We’re going to shut down the live blog now, but keep an eye on the FT website for regular updates on this story throughout the day. Here is a final roundup of today’s events:

  • Andy Coulson, the former head of communications to David Cameron, has been arrested on charges of phone hacking and corruption.
  • David Cameron has defended his decision to appoint Coulson, saying he wanted to give him a second chance.
  • But Cameron came close to calling for the head of Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive, saying if he had been offered her resignation he would have taken it.
  • There will be two public enquiries into phone hacking: one led by a judge looking at specific allegations of hacking; the other at wider media ethics.
  • The second, broader enquiry will look at a replacement for the Press Complaints Commission, marking an effective end to the PCC.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

I wrote yesterday that David Cameron and the Tories in general are finding themselves on the wrong side of public opinion over phone hacking. Some think it is far worse than that.

Peter Oborne has written columns in both the Spectator and the Telegraph today ripping into Cameron and his government for their ties to News International. In a piece for The Telegraph headlined David Cameron is in the sewer because of his News International friends, Oborne says phone hacking will be as damaging for Cameron as Iraq was for Tony Blair. He says:

David Cameron, who has returned from Afghanistan as a profoundly damaged figure, now faces exactly such a crisis. The series of disgusting revelations concerning his friends and associates from Rupert Murdoch’s News International has permanently and irrevocably damaged his reputation.

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Jim Pickard

The Guardian yesterday ran a fascinating story on their front page about how Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the civil service, had “blocked” an attempt by Gordon Brown to hold a judicial review into phone hacking. We followed up the story on ft.com this morning.

Here are a few extra details which did not make the final cut and may be of interest: Read more

News International, the publisher of the News of the World, has admitted liability in eight cases relating to the phone hacking scandal and offered an “unreserved apology”. Read more