Former News International executive chairman James Murdoch today admitted to the Leveson Inquiry that the News of the World story falsely alleging former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley had a Nazi orgy should never have been run.
Mosley was awarded a record £60,000 in privacy damages at the High Court over the March 2008 News of the World story about his sex life but is estimated to have spent around £500,000 in legal fees.
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When quizzed by counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC this morning, Murdoch agreed News International paid “substantial” costs, which was a “cause for concern”, adding: “The story shouldn’t have been run.”
But he claimed that then editor Colin Myler had assured him the story was both true and in the public interest – claims that Murdoch said were later proved to be false.
He described the Mosley episode as “very disappointing” and “a matter of great regret”, adding: “Getting it wrong spectacularly as that was, was made clear to Mr Myler with a strong indication it shouldn’t happen again.”
Murdoch was also questioned about changes to the management culture he sought to introduce at the publisher when he arrived in 2007.
Jay asked him: “In your view, were there deficiencies in News International’s systems for identifying and assessing legal risk, particularly in the context of potential reputational harm for the company?”
Murdoch replied: “With respect to news-gathering processes, for example, one of the subjects of interest here, I think it’s self-evident that in hindsight, knowing what we know now, whatever controls were in place failed to create the sufficient transparency around those issues and the risks around it …
“At the time I didn’t have a view that those were insufficient or not.”
Meetings with Cameron
In his witness statement Murdoch admitted that he broke the news to David Cameron that The Sun had decided the paper would support the Conservative Party in the 2010 general election.
‘This was the only time that I conveyed support of the papers. However, from my own point of view there was not, and never has been, any issue of support being conditional on particular policies or contingencies.”
Later in his evidence Murdoch said he had a ‘cordial relationship’with Cameron and his predecessor Tony Blair and ‘always sought a constructive relationship with Chancellor and later Prime Minister Brown”.
‘A search of my diary indicates a number of meetings with David Cameron, as Leader of the Opposition, since November 2003, when I moved back to the UK from Hong Kong, and became Chief Executive Officer of BSkyB.”
In his evidence it emerged that Murdoch met Cameron 12 times while he was leader of the opposition, including four meetings which were also attended by former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
He talked briefly Cameron at a dinner about the removal of Business Secretary Vince Cable’s powers to oversee News Corporation‘s bid to take over broadcaster BSkyB.
Murdoch had drinks with the Tory leader in September 2009 to discuss The Sun’s plans to endorse the Conservative Party at the following year’s general election, the press standards inquiry was told.
He also met Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague during the Tories’ time in opposition.
Between June 2006 and January 2010, Murdoch met Cameron eight times for dinner, twice for breakfast, once for lunch and once for drinks.
Brooks attended meetings between the media boss and the Conservative leader on May 5 2009, November 2 2009, November 19 2009 and January 21 2010.
After Cameron entered Number 10 in May 2010, Mr Murdoch and his family had lunch with him at the Prime Minister’s country retreat, Chequers in Buckinghamshire, in November 2010.
Brooks and her husband, Charlie, hosted a dinner attended by the media mogul and Mr Cameron on December 23, 2010.
This was two days after Cable was stripped of his responsibilities for regulating the media after he was caught on tape by undercover reporters claiming to have “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire.
James Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry that he and Cameron mentioned what had happened.
“He reiterated what he had said publicly, which is that the behaviour had been unacceptable, and I imagine I expressed the hope that things would be dealt with in a way that was appropriate and judicial,” he said.
“It was a tiny conversation ahead of a dinner where all these people were there, so it wasn’t really a discussion.”
The inquiry heard that Murdoch had lunch at Chequers with Tony Blair when he was prime minister in July 2004.
He also held a conference call with Blair in October 2005 during which he may have discussed European Commission proposals for regulating broadcasting rights for English Premier League football.
Murdoch said: “It was a normal and appropriate or legitimate bit of business advocacy… The purpose would be hopefully for senior policy-makers, the Prime Minister in this case, to understand that some of these policies might have adverse consequences for English football.”
Murdoch had two meetings at 10 Downing Street with then-prime minister Gordon Brown in March and December 2008.
He could not remember exactly what was discussed, he said, adding: “He would have told me lots of things about the economy and the like.”
Murdoch confirmed that he was “friendly” with Osborne and had once visited the Chancellor’s grace and favour house, Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire, with his family.
He had one discussion with Osborne about News Corp’s bid to take over BSkyB, which was eventually dropped last July after a public outcry over the revelation that the News of the World hacked murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone.
Murdoch said his conversation about the proposed buy-out of the satellite broadcaster with the Chancellor “would have just been to be grumpy about it taking a long time and being referred to (regulator) Ofcom, which I was very clear in public about at the same time”.