Hinton: 'Answers you were given were not accurate'

News International executive chairman James Murdoch is to give evidence for a second time to a parliamentary investigation into phone-hacking on November 10, it was announced today.

The disclosure came after Murdoch’s predecessor, Les Hinton, was quizzed by video-link by the cross-party Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Hinton, the most senior casualty of the hacking scandal so far, told MPs there was “no reason” why Murdoch should resign from his post at News International (NI).

Hinton, a close lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch – he worked with the News Corp chief for more than 50 years – resigned as chief executive officer of the company’s Dow Jones subsidiary in July as the scale of hacking which took place under his watch at the News of the World, owned by News International, became apparent.

Hinton acknowledged that some of the evidence previously given to the committee by NI executives, when they insisted that hacking at the Sunday tabloid was limited to a single rogue reporter, had turned out to be “not accurate”.

But he challenged MPs’ suggestions that this meant executives had been “untruthful”, insisting that events had become clear only over the past couple of years and the full picture of what happened was still not known.

He told the MPs: “I see no reason why James Murdoch should resign.”

James Murdoch took over responsibility for News International from Hinton when he moved to the United States in December 2007 to head News Corp’s recently-acquired Dow Jones operation, including the Wall Street Journal.

While the bulk of alleged phone-hacking is believed to have happened during Hinton’s time in charge, the crucial £425,000 out-of-court payment to Professional Footballers Association chief Gordon Taylor – sparked by the emergence of the “for Neville” e-mail which proved that hacking went beyond a single reporter – took place after he had left.

Hinton acknowledged that he had seen a letter in 2007 in which former News of the World (NoW) royal correspondent Clive Goodman said that knowledge of phone-hacking was widespread on the paper.

Goodman was complaining about his dismissal for gross misconduct after being jailed for eavesdropping on the phone messages of the royal household, and was threatening to take the company to an employment tribunal.

Hinton, who had already agreed a £90,000 pay-off to the reporter, said he was advised that NI was likely to lose any tribunal, and therefore agreed a further £153,000 – bringing the total payment to Goodman to £243,000.

“I acted upon the view that we would most likely or probably lose and, rather than go through that process, it was better for the company to get ahead and get it behind us,” he told the committee.

But he said a “pretty thorough” internal investigation found no basis for Goodman’s claims about widespread wrong-doing at the News of the World.

‘Goodman letter is not evidence’

He denied misleading the committee at a previous appearance in 2009 when he said there was “never any firm evidence provided or suspicion provided” of more than one NoW reporter being involved in hacking.

“I didn’t regard Mr Goodman’s letter as evidence,” said Hinton. “They were allegations made by an employee who had been dismissed because of gross misconduct.

“We acted, I think, very responsibly to what Goodman had claimed and at the end of it, we discovered no basis to what he was claiming, so I think therefore my statement is valid.”

But he accepted that events had “evolved quite significantly” since that point and told MPs: “I think it is clear that, based on events over the last 12 months or so, that some of the answers you were given were not accurate – whether calling them ‘untruthful’ is the appropriate word, I don’t know.”

During the 70-minute evidence session, Hinton repeatedly said he could not remember details of events in the phone-hacking scandal.

Committee member Tom Watson sarcastically congratulated him: “You’re not doing badly, Mr Hinton. You have only said you can’t remember seven times so far. In 2009 you used it 32 times.”

Hinton refused to discuss details of the severance package agreed with News Corporation when he quit in July, though he said he no longer had a company car, office space or any employment from the company.

He said he had not been interviewed by police or by Viet Dinh, the News Corp board member who is leading an internal investigation, about the hacking scandal.

Hinton said then-editor Andy Coulson had taken charge of initial internal inquiries into phone-hacking allegations at the News of the World.

“Police were involved, lawyers were involved, I was not personally involved,” he told the committee.

The ‘For Neville’ email

Hinton said he would like to know the details of what had not been uncovered during his time at News International.

“Looking back on it now, I really look forward to understanding what did unfold and what we might have uncovered and what we did not.”

He said he had first become aware of the “for Neville” e-mail – which made clear that phone hacking was not restricted to one rogue reporter – after the Gordon Taylor settlement was revealed in July 2009.

Questioned by Mr Watson, Mr Hinton said he had “never had suspicion”

that computers were hacked. He also denied any knowledge of payments to police officers.

To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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