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James Murdoch Has ‘Real Regret’ Over U.K. Hacking Scandal

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch told U.K. lawmakers he should have dug deeper to uncover the phone-hacking scandal at the company’s U.K. unit.

“I could have asked more questions, requested more documents and taken a more challenging and skeptical view of what I was told,” Murdoch said according to a letter published today on the website of the U.K. Parliament’s Culture Committee. “In this case, the approach fell short. But it is important to note that I did not turn a blind eye.”

U.K. lawmakers are preparing a report about Murdoch’s role in the phone-hacking scandal at the News International publishing business and may publish their findings in coming weeks. Murdoch stepped down as executive chairman of News International on Feb. 29., almost eight months after the company closed the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid where journalists had hacked into the phones of celebrities, politicians and a murdered schoolgirl.

The committee began its inquiry in July after Murdoch said lawmakers had been misled about the extent of phone hacking during a previous probe in 2009. It has questioned him twice for the new report, once alongside his father Rupert, News Corp.’s chief executive officer. The panel held its final public hearing on Nov. 10.

Running the Newsroom

In the letter, Murdoch said he was never intimately involved with running News of the World and relied on Colin Myler, the former editor of the News of the World, and the newspaper’s former lawyer, Tom Crone, to keep him abreast of the developments.

Murdoch said today it’s a “matter of great and real regret to me” that he was not made aware of the extent of the phone hacking earlier.

Myler and Crone have testified that they told Murdoch in 2008 about an e-mail that showed phone-hacking was more widespread than initially assumed.

In the letter, Murdoch reiterated that he didn’t read the e-mail, sent on a Saturday, because he was likely preoccupied with his two small children at home and had asked Myler to call him to discuss the issue. Furthermore, he said that the e-mail didn’t refer to widespread hacking. Instead, it discussed a settlement for a separate lawsuit involving what Murdoch said he assumed was a single hacker.

The lawmakers are behind schedule with their report, as they debate how critical they can be of Murdoch, two people with knowledge of the panel’s discussions said in February. Chairman John Whittingdale said in November he hoped to issue the report before Christmas 2011.

‘Mafia Boss’

There is no question of Murdoch escaping criticism completely, the people said at the time. They said panel members are unimpressed by his statements that he was ignorant about what was going on at News Corp.’s London-based U.K. publishing unit which he ran from the end of 2007. message at the time because he received it on a Saturday.

“I take my share of responsibility for not uncovering wrongdoing earlier,” Murdoch said in the letter published today. “I have not misled Parliament. I did not know about, nor did I try to hide wrongdoing.”

Tom Watson, a Labour Party member who has led Parliament’s inquiry into phone hacking, said in November that Murdoch “must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”

Arrests

The scandal has led to dozens of arrests. Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News International, was arrested a second time yesterday by London police as the year old phone-hacking probe turned to a possible cover up, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The probe into the phone-hacking scandal has continued to expand to add an investigation into bribes to public officials and police. More than 20 people have been arrested as part Operation Weeting, the phone-hacking investigation, and at least 10 have been questioned since the beginning of the year in the bribery probe.

Today, Neville Thurlbeck, a former News of the World journalist, was arrested on suspicion of intimidation of a witness, according to a person familiar with the situation.

A separate judge-led inquiry, formed by Prime Minister David Cameron, was also started because of the News of the World revelations to look into media ethics and practices.

New York Move

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.

Murdoch was given the News Corp. deputy COO job in March 2011, with News Corp. announcing plans to move Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son, to its headquarters in New York. By July, the scandal had erupted over allegations that the News of the World hacked into the voice mail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Murdoch has completed his move to New York and has no plans to step down from any of his other roles, a person close to the company, who asked not to be named because the plans are private, said Feb. 29. He held onto his position as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, Britain’s biggest pay-TV company, last November amid criticism from some shareholders for him to resign.

“Forty years of our company’s involvement and investment in the U.K., which from time to time has been seen as controversial, is plenty of time to make both contributions and mistakes, to win some allies and to have detractors,” Murdoch said in the letter. “The challenge for everyone seeking to draw enduring lessons and conclusions is to do so with impartiality that restores balance and objectivity, especially as we wait for the fullness of the various civil, public and criminal procedures to move forward.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Thomson in London at athomson6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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