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News Corp. Denies Claims James Murdoch Had Secret IPhone

News Corp. said James Murdoch, its deputy chief operating officer, didn’t hide a “secret” iPhone from the U.K. media-ethics inquiry triggered by rampant phone-hacking at its now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

The handset, which is now the subject of a police probe in London, was one of four issued in 2009 to senior executives at News Corp.’s British unit, News International, the Independent newspaper reported today. The company’s phone evidence until now focused on BlackBerry devices, the newspaper said.

News Corp. is trying to move on from the scandal after the inquiry that began last year revealed damaging e-mails and text messages and a judge handling dozens of related civil cases said the company destroyed evidence. Murdoch testified in April at the ethics inquiry, where Judge Brian Leveson is reviewing the extent of illegal phone hacking.

“Mr. Murdoch fully cooperated with the Leveson Inquiry,” Miranda Higham, a spokeswoman for New York-based News Corp., said in an e-mailed statement today. “It is ridiculous to suggest that he keeps, or kept, a ‘secret phone.’”

David Sherborne, a lawyer for victims of phone hacking, asked a judge at a June 1 hearing to order News International to hand over records for at least two iPhones used by senior company executives, who he didn’t name. The existence of the phones was suggested by evidence given to the Leveson inquiry and the devices may contain relevant e-mails, Sherborne said at the hearing.

Murdoch and his father, News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, who also testified at the inquiry in April, blamed the scandal on underlings. They said they weren’t aware the hacking went beyond a single reporter, Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007.

Internal Probe

Mary Kearney, a spokeswoman for London-based News International, declined to comment and forwarded requests to News Corp. Paul Durman, a spokesman for News Corp.’s Management Standards Committee, which is conducting an internal probe of wrongdoing and working with police, also declined to comment.

The four phones, with service from Telefonica SA’s O2, had combined charges of nearly 12,000 pounds ($18,800) from June 2011 -- a month before revelations the News of the World had hacked into a murdered schoolgirl’s mobile phone -- until May, according to the Independent. The revelation in July triggered the inquiry and prompted Rupert Murdoch to shutter the tabloid.

The Independent didn’t say when police were made aware of the phones or how their existence came to light.

John Toker, a spokesman for the Leveson inquiry, didn’t immediately return a call for comment. Evidence that was publicized as part of the inquiry has caused difficulties for James Murdoch and led to questions about his leadership.

He repeatedly testified in April he wasn’t told when lower-ranking executives became aware in 2008 that phone hacking was more widespread than the company had stated. He said he was also assured by two probes conducted by outside law firms and a police investigation, which found the practice to be contained.

Saturday Message

Murdoch said he didn’t read a 2008 e-mail from the News of the World’s then-editor Colin Myler about phone hacking potentially extending beyond Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who helped him intercept messages. Murdoch said he didn’t read it because it came on a Saturday, he had jet lag and was preoccupied with his children swimming in a pool.

Judge Geoffrey Vos in London, who is overseeing dozens of civil phone-hacking cases filed by hacking victims, said in January after reading internal News International e-mails that the company should be treated as “deliberate destroyers of evidence.”

Text messages sent and received by News International executives have also caused difficulties for the company by indicating a too-cozy relationship with politicians, including U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was given oversight of News Corp.’s bid for British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is friends with former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.

The inquiry was set up by Cameron to help quell public outrage over phone hacking. The scandal, which widened to include police probes of computer hacking and bribery, has led to more than 50 arrests and the closing of the best-selling News of the World.

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