Faced with a room full of arrested Sun journalists who felt utterly betrayed by the company – News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch unambiguously sided with them and against the police.
More than 20 Sun journalists have been arrested on suspicion of paying public officials and eight, so far, are to face trial. One further journalist had the prosecution dropped on health grounds. The evidence which secured their arrests was in every case volunteered to police by News Corp’s Management and Standards Committee.
Murdoch was flanked in the meeting by News Corp chief executive, Mike Darcey, and by Sun editor Dominic Mohan (who did not speak). Around 20 arrested News International staff attended the meeting, held in March this year, which held at their request.
Former Sun managing editor Graham Dudman acted as spokesman for the arrested staff.
He said: “The people in this room are the human cost of the decision that was taken – we believe in haste – to set up the MSC and give it, what we believe, was the sole aim of protecting News Corp at all costs.
“We believe that we are the human cost of that decision.
"Until their arrests, everybody that you're looking in this room was a loyal hard-working employee devoted to you personally, to The Sun, to News International and everything that this company and you stand for, and have been proud to work here – proud to work here.
"People are at different stages of their career. …People are beginning to plan their lives around News International. Other people have given their lives to News International. Some faces you will recognise, some you won't. One thing that everybody in this room shares – everybody in this room shares – whether we are 20-something, 30-something, 40-something, 50-something or 60-something, is that we were arrested, thrown into the police cells, treated as common criminals in front of our children, our families and our our neighbours, and our friends and our colleagues, for doing nothing more than the company expected of us – nothing.”
Murdoch responded by siding with arrested journalists and against the police and insisting that the company would continue to support them, even in the event that he was no longer at the head of it.
He said: “I'm just as annoyed as you are at the police, and you're directing it at me instead, but never mind.
“In that first month, you said there was panic, maybe there was panic that we closed the News of the World, but we were working in the belief – I think rightly – the police were about to invade this building, and take all the computers out the way, and just put us out of business totally and everyone could have lost out.
"And it was done to protect the business, We thought, protecting everybody, but that's how it started. And if you want to accuse me of a certain amount of panic, there's some truth in that. ..
“I was under personal siege – not that that mattered – but it was, the whole place was, all the press were screaming and shouting, and we might have gone too far in protecting ourselves. And you were the victims of it. It's not enough for me to say you've got my sympathy. But you do have my total support.”
Asked for assurances about what would happen if members of staff were convicted, Murdoch said he guaranteed that medical support would continue (some of the arrested Sun journalist have required professional counselling).
He added: “I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever.
“I think it's just outrageous, but – and I don't know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn't being done across Fleet Street and wasn't the culture. And we're being picked on.
“I think that it was the old right-wing establishment, Puttnam, or worse, the left-wing get-even crowd of Gordon Brown. There was a sort of – we go caught with dirty hands I guess – with the News of the World, and everybody piled in.
“It was get-even time for things that were done with The Sun over the last 40 years, 38 years, whatever it is.
“But that's no help to you guys in your personal situation. All I have to say is, you thanked me for giving you an hour today, I spend more than an hour every day thinking about this, and will just do anything I can to help and support you.
“It doesn't make good what's happened to you, or what is happening to you, or the torture that you and your families have been put through.
“Still, I mean, it's a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent.”
Thanked again for the support he had shown to journalists, Murdoch was then asked about what would happen if they were convicted.
He said: “Emotional support is not enough. I’ve got to do more. I mean, at least, everybody will be paid. You’re all innocent until proven guilty. What you’re asking is, what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I’m not allowed to promise you – I will promise you continued health support – but your jobs – I’ve got to be careful what comes out – but frankly, i won’t say it, it just trust me. Okay.”
Asked about what would happen “if you’re not here” Murdoch gave a revealing insight into his thinking on his successor at News Corp.
“It will either be with my son, Lachlan, or with [News Corp chief executive] Robert Thomson," he said. "And you don’t have any worries about either of them.”