British lawmakers probing phone hacking scandal ask James Murdoch to clarify testimony

LONDON – British lawmakers on Friday demanded James Murdoch clarify why testimony he gave to a parliamentary committee probing the phone hacking scandal conflicted with a statement from two former executives.

Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of media giant News Corp., and his father, tycoon Rupert Murdoch, testified about the widening allegations of phone tapping and bribery at the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid.

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The Culture, Media and Sport Committee said Friday it now wanted more information from the younger Murdoch because his testimony was disputed by former News of the World editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, former lawyer for News Corp.’s British arm, News International.

The two men released a statement contradicting Murdoch’s claim that he was not aware of an email containing information about hacked voicemails, saying they did inform him of the document.

John Whittingdale, the parliamentary committee’s chair, said he was writing Murdoch, Myler and Crone for clarification.

“We are going to write to ask for further details from various areas where evidence is disputed,” Whittingdale said.

He said the committee decided not to take the additional step of recalling Murdoch to another hearing, saying they wanted to consider his written answers first.

“We want to hear exactly how they dispute that. I suspect it very likely that we will want to hear oral evidence. If they do come back with statements that are quite plainly different from those given by James Murdoch, we will want to hear James Murdoch’s response to that,” he said.

James Murdoch had said he stood by his testimony but would provide a written response to follow-up questions.

His father said during the July 19 hearing that he accepted no responsibility for wrongdoing amid widening claims that News of the World illegally accessed cellphone messages and bribed police to get information on celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

The latest potential hacking victim is Sara Payne, mother of an 8-year-old girl murdered by a pedophile in 2000. On Thursday a charity co-founded by Payne said her details had been found in the files of Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective employed by the News of the World.

Mulcaire was jailed in 2007, along with reporter Clive Goodman, for hacking into the voicemail messages of royal staff. For years, News International maintained hacking was limited to the two rogue employees. Executives now admit it went wider – but James Murdoch and others insist they had no knowledge of it.

Mulcaire issued a statement through his lawyer Friday admitting phone hacking and apologizing “to those who have been hurt and affected by his activities.”

But he insisted he had not acted alone.

“As an employee he acted on the instructions of others … any suggestion that he acted in such matters unilaterally is untrue,” he said.

Earlier Friday, a British man who interrupted the hearing when he threw a shaving-cream pie at the tycoon was convicted of assault and causing harassment.

Jonathan May-Bowles hurled a paper plate with a pile of shaving cream at Murdoch as he was giving evidence to the committee. The activist, who admitted the crime during an appearance at a London court, was due to be sentenced Aug. 2.

Also Friday, the head of Britain’s press watchdog stepped down amid heavy criticism about the organization’s handling of the scandal.

Peta Jane Buscombe said she will not continue as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission after her term ends next year.

The body has been widely criticized for failing to curb tabloid excesses. A judge-led inquiry into hacking will consider whether Britain needs a tougher system of media regulation.