LONDON — Rupert Murdoch has claimed he was a victim of “a cover up” at his U.K. tabloid the News of the World over phone hacking.
Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics for the second day, the News Corp. topper said he had been “misinformed and shielded” from what was going on at the paper adding there was a “cover-up.”
Murdoch said there were “one or two strong characters” at the defunct tabloid, closed last July when the phone hacking and police corruption row became toxic for News Corp.
These “characters” had forbidden people from talking to Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, then News International CEO and chairman respectively.
“I blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name because for all I know they may be arrested yet,” he said.
“But there is no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly behind that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret.”
When asked later if News Corp. had managed the legal risk of phone hacking by covering it up, Murdoch replied: “No. There was no attempt either at my level or several levels below to cover it up.
“We set up inquiry after inquiry, we employed legal firm after legal firm. Perhaps we relied too much on the conclusions of the police.
“Our response was far too defensive and worse, disrespectful of Parliament.”
Murdoch said he wished he had closed the News of the World earlier and had “panicked” following revelations that the tabloid had hacked a cell phone belonging to murdered British school girl Milly Dowler.
“When the Milly Dowler (story) was first given huge publicity, I think newspapers took the chance to make this a huge national scandal.
“It made people all over the country aware of this, you could feel the blast coming in the window.
“I’ll say it succinctly: I panicked, but I’m glad I did. And I’m sorry I didn’t close it years before and put a Sun on Sunday in. I tell you what held us back: News of the World readers. Only half of them read the Sun, only a quarter, regular.”
Murdoch said he also made a big mistake listening to lawyers when royal reporter Clive Goodman alleged that others on the News of the World knew about phone hacking.
“I should have gone there and thrown all the damn lawyers out of the place and seen Mr. Goodman one on one.
“He’d been an employee for a long time (I) should have cross-examined him myself …
“If I’d have found he was telling the truth I would have torn the place apart and we wouldn’t be here today… and that was 2007.”
Asked if the Dowler revelations ultimately derailed News Corp.’s bid to own U.K. paybox BSkyB outright Murdoch said: “Well, I don’t know whether we can put it down to the Milly Dowler misfortune, but the hacking scandal, yes.”
He said that News Corp. had put in measures to ensure there would be no repeat of the scandal.
“We are now a new company, we have new rules, we have new compliance officers, and I think we are showing in the Sun that we can still produce the best newspaper without the bad practices that were disclosed.”