News Corp Chairman/CEO Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before a British Parliament committee was briefly suspended after he was nearly hit in the face by a protestor armed with a plate of shaving cream. His wife Wendi sprang to his defense and deflected the assault. Police have arrested the attacker. James Murdoch criticized authorities for not protecting his 80-year-old father better. Proceedings were recessed for 15 minutes before resuming. What a humiliating thing to happen in the House of Commons when the eyes of the world are watching. Here is my live-blogging of the evidence presented by Rupert and son James Murdoch before the MPs:
1714: Rupert says there is no evidence that families of 9/11 victims had their phones hacked. James is more cautious, saying he doesn’t know the veracity of the “appalling” allegations.
1709: Committee resumes. James denies any inference that out-of-court settlements were paid to buy silence. Says only became aware of Milly Dowler voicemail hacking when it broke in the press.
1700: Rupert Murdoch has been apparently hit in the face with a plate of shaving foam by a man shouting, “Greedy.” James Murdoch has remonstrated with police for not protecting his father properly.
1659: Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng defended her husband. What a shameful thing to have happened in the House of Commons.
1655: A shout and James Murdoch springs to their feet. A policeman dashes across the room. Police are handcuffing man behind his back. Proceedings suspended.
1651: Asked why Rebekah Brooks suggested there were still more revelations to come, James claims ignorance. He apologises for what’s happened.
1650: Rupert admits the way News Corp has handled the crisis is “terrible”, but he doesn’t believe that either James or Les Hinton made any great mistakes.
1435: James Murdoch asks to read statement. Murdoch says it’s a matter of great regret. “These actions do not live up to the standards we aspire to,” says James.
14:39: “This is the most humble day of my life,” says Rupert.
1445: Committee chairman John Whittingdale asks if those who testified before were lying about any illegality. James Murdoch talks of his “deep frustration” about the length of time things to come out into the open.
1449: Rupert says that the News of the World is just 1% of his company. Rupert says that News International employed the best lawyers when he became aware of the problems.
1453: Rupert is flummoxed by questioning by Tom Watson MP, who has been at the forefront of this investigation into News International. Rupert keeps trying to deflect questions to James.
1458: Tom Watson MP presses Rupert on how much he knew of a London law Harbottle and Lewis firm’s investigation. Rupert says he knew nothing of phone-hacking payments to PR chief Max Clifford and soccer boss Gordon Taylor. James says that corporate procedure meant payments escaped his father’s attention.
1459: Rupert “shocked and appalled” when he discovered about the hacking into murder victim Milly Dowler’s cellphone.
1500: Rupert says he “forgets the date” when he realised the one-rogue-reporter line taken by News International was false. Rupert says News International has handed over everything to police. Tom Watson MP says it is “revealing in itself” that Rupert does not known the detail.
1505: “We felt ashamed of what had happened,” says a frail-seeming Rupert on the decision to close the News of the World. Rupert pleads deafness and has no memory.
1507: Rupert says “he just did what he was told” about the infamous secret meeting at Downing Street after David Cameron won the General Election in May. He reveals that he was also asked by previous Prime Minister Gordon Brown for meetings “through the back door”.
1510: Rupert blames “hysteria” for the collapse of the BSkyB deal. “A mood developed that made it impractical to go ahead,” says Rupert. James says the company’s priority is to restore trust, and the withdrawal of the BSkyB bid was part of that. “What happened at the News of the World was wrong,” says James.
1515: Rupert denies responsibility for the whole fiasco to Labour MP James Sheridan. He blames those who worked under him at News International, specifically exonerating Les Hinton who he “would trust with his life”.
1516: James Murdoch denies any knowledge that any News Corp company is being investigated by fraud and tax authorities.
1519: James says that the out-of-court settlement with Gordon Taylor came out of the 2007 trial of private investigator Glen Mulcaire, convicted of phone-hacking. News International says it faced damages of £500,000 plus if it hadn’t settled. James says News International was authorised to make payments without informing News Corp higher up. Rupert chips in that James had only been with News International a few weeks at the time the settlements were paid. “Months,” adds James.
1530: Asked if the scandal will change the way News International operates, Rupert replies mysteriously, “I’m not aware of any expressions.” James says he’s welcomed the Prime Minister’s enquiry into journalistic ethics. He adds that News Corp has set up a new ethics committee establishing a new code of conduct “with teeth” independently chaired. Rupert adds, “This country greatly benefits from having a competitive press, which is sometimes inconvenient to people.”
1531: James says there are “no immediate plans” to introduce a new Sunday tabloid for now.
1538: James says with the benefit of hindsight, News Corp would have moved faster to deal with the scandal. James says he was aware that he was signing a cheque to settle illegal phone-hacking, based on News Corp lawyer Tom Crone’s advice and Farrer & Co, the Queen’s solicitors. His view was that this was about events already a year old at the time. He denies the payments were anything to do with paying for phone-hacking victims’ silence.
1540: James says he doesn’t know why News Corp lawyer Tom Crone was asked to leave after 26 years’ service. He also denies knowing anything about subsidising ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson’s salary after he left News International.
1545: Rupert says he “seldom” speaks to his editors. Once a week to the editor of The Sunday Times, he says, but less than that to the editor of the News of the World. “To say that we’re hands-off is wrong,” admits Rupert. Rupert says he lost sight of the News of the World, which he spoke to once a month. Denies speaking the editor of tabloid The Sun on a daily basis.
1551: TV sports presenter Andy Gray, another phone-hacking victim, only got £20,000 compared to payouts of £600,000-£1 million for earlier victims. Is it because the scandal hadn’t fully come out yet at the time of the bigger payments? asks MP Philip Davies. The implication is that News International was trying to keep the scandal secret.
1600: Rupert says it “could have been” Les Hinton who approved out-of-court settlements. James says it was Rebekah Brooks’ decision to get rid of lawyer Tom Crone. Rupert says that Les Hinton resigned because of his corporate responsibility at the time of the phone-hacking. Rebekah Brooks was at “the point of extreme anguish” when she resigned. Says details of exit payments to Les Hinton and Rebekah Brooks are confidential, but there is no gagging order on them not to speak publicly or be transparent about any wrongdoing. If, however, any evidence of impropriety does emerge, then things would be different.
1607: James admits that the company has been paying legal fees of convicted felon Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator employed by the News of the World. Says he was “shocked” when he found out, but had to follow legal advice. Says he doesn’t know if News International is still paying Mulcaire’s legal fees.
1616: James says he is unable to answer MP Paul Farrelly’s question as to what the exact command structure at the News of the World was because it might compromise the Metropolitan Police investigation. Rupert heartily agrees.
1622: James says he was unaware of what Glenn Mulcaire was alleging about any wrongdoing at the News of the World before he too received a settlement.
1627: James says he was in the dark about a new evidence file gathered by News International’s own outside counsel Harbottle & Lewis that contradicted evidence previously given to MPs by News International.
1631: Rupert ducks behind ongoing police enquiry when asked if his editors could really have been unaware that phone-hacking was going on.
1641: Asked if he regrets appointing family members to News Corp, Rupert says James had to apply for the CEO of News Corp Europe and Asia job along with others. Rupert again singles out Les Hinton for not keeping him in the dark about anything.
1644: Rupert says Daily Telegraph bought stolen documents about MPs’ expenses, which itself should be investigated. Holds up Singapore as an example of a totally transparent society.
1646: Rupert denies people in his organisation keep information from him. Says he’s told the truth by senior advisers – most of whom have now left, MP Damian Collins gently points out.
1648: Rupert thumps the table saying that his father Sir Keith Murdoch bought a newspaper to expose wrongdoing. Sounding choked with emotion, Murdoch says he wants his children to do the same.