James Murdoch has suddenly found an e-mail which alerted him to phone hacking at News International – despite having previously blamed two of his executives for not giving him such information. He simply didn’t read his BlackBerry fully, he says.
News International’s law firm Linklaters – in a Monday letter to the House of Commons’ culture, media and sport committee – said it “recently became aware of” an email News Of The World editor Colin Myler sent to Murdoch in June 2008, in which Myler warns “it is as bad as we feared“. It also contained full advice from in-house lawyer Tom Crone and the firm’s previous legal firm Farrer & Co.
Murdoch – in his own apologetic new letter to the committee – says: “I only became aware of the email on Wednesday, 7 December 2011 when it was passed to me by the management standards committee.”
But the e-mail transcript given to the committee shows how Murdoch responded immediately to Myler to say: “No worries. I am in during the afternoon. If you want to talk before, I’ll be home tonight after seven and most of the day tomorrow.”
In his new letter to MPs, Murdoch explains: “Given the timing of my response, just over two minutes after Mr Myler had sent this e-mail to me, and the fact that I typically received e-mails on my BlackBerry on weekends, I am confident that I did not review the full e-mail chain at the time or afterwards.”
In other words, Murdoch acknowledged Myler’s warning, ignored lawyers’ full advice contained in Myler’s mail and did not return to either after the weekend – because he used his BlackBerry to scan e-mails rather than read at length.
The Commons committee may well now end up criticising Murdoch’s professional aptitude.
Ordinarily, that might force a knock-on consequence for his place in News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS) But Murdoch has already just been re-elected by News Corp and BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) for another year.
And such a criticism may be preferable to an alternative possible conclusion – that he wilfully misled parliament over the matter. By disclosing the existence of the e-mail now, even at this belated stage, he may at least have evaded that charge.
In his e-mail, Myler had asked Murdoch for “five minutes with you on Tuesday” – a meeting on which Murdoch, in his new letter, says he based his earlier testimony, in which he said he was not made fully aware of the scale of phone hacking.