News Corp. Executives May Face Sanction on Parliament Testimony

News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch
James Murdoch, News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Former News of the World editor Colin Myler and the newspaper’s former lawyer, Tom Crone, may face action over evidence they gave to Parliament should U.K. lawmakers decide they failed to tell the truth on phone hacking.

Myler told the House of Commons Culture Committee in 2009 that “no evidence” had been produced “internally or externally, by the police, by any lawyers” to suggest that criminality at the News Corp. tabloid had gone beyond one reporter. Last week, the committee published notes and e-mails from 2008 from News Corp.’s former outside counsel, Julian Pike of Farrer & Co., that showed Myler and Crone were told by a trial lawyer that three other reporters were implicated.

Crone denied at a hearing in September that he’d commissioned private detectives to investigate the lawyers of people suing the newspapers. “Certainly not in the past few years,” he told the committee. That statement was contradicted yesterday by News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch, who told the committee meeting in London that he had been “shocked” to learn recently that Crone and another executive had put lawyers and lawmakers under surveillance.

Murdoch’s own testimony to the committee in July and yesterday directly contradicted Myler’s and Crone’s. They said in September that they’d told Murdoch in 2008 about an e-mail that showed criminality went beyond a single reporter. “Their testimony was misleading and I dispute it,” Murdoch said yesterday.

Crone said in an e-mailed statement after yesterday’s hearing that Murdoch “was told by us in 2008 about the damning e-mail and what it meant in terms of wider News of the World involvement.”

‘Need to Discredit’

“It is regrettable, but I can perfectly understand why James Murdoch felt the need to discredit Colin Myler and myself,” Crone said. “It seems he now accepts he was told of the e-mail, of the fact that it contained transcripts of voicemail interceptions and that those interceptions were authorized by the News of the World. Perhaps Mr. Murdoch could explain who he thought was doing the authorizing at the News of the World?”

Myler said in an e-mailed statement that his evidence to the panel “has been entirely accurate and consistent” and he stood by his account. He said he was confident that the police probe into hacking and a judge-led inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron “will establish the truth.”

‘Not Been Tested’

It’s not clear what powers Parliament has to punish people who mislead it. Culture Committee Chairman John Whittingdale told BBC television yesterday that panelists would view it as “a very serious matter” if they concluded they’d been lied to. “It would be for the House of Commons to decide what further action to take, but we are in a realm that has not been tested for 100 years or more,” he said.

John Bercow, the speaker of the house, told reporters yesterday that Parliament needs to clarify its own powers to call witnesses and punish those who mislead it.

“What do we do if we demand the presence of a witness and a witness refuses to appear?” he said. “What do we do if a witness appears and gives false or misleading testimony? There is ancient legislation that treats of these matters, but there is genuine uncertainty as to its effectability in the modern day. The matter cannot rest here.”