Video: Sad Murdoch: 'This is my most humble day'
But News Corp chief executive falls short of accepting personal blame, writes James Kirkup
Rupert Murdoch admitted yesterday that he had known nothing of his company's phone-hacking scandal or the secret payments which hid it from the world.
The most powerful media baron in Britain and perhaps globally made the confession as he experienced "the most humble day" in his 80 years.
Questioned by a Commons select committee about phone hacking at the 'News of the World', the News Corp founder conceded he had "lost sight" of the tabloid's management.
He had "been lax" in not asking staff about the paper's actions, which included intercepting voicemails of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Mr Murdoch also had to endure the indignity of a physical attack, when a self-described comedian, "Jonnie Marbles", evaded security to strike him with a 'pie' of shaving foam.
He and his son, James, spent three hours giving evidence to the culture, media and sport committee, facing questions about their knowledge of the wrongdoing that closed the paper and now threatens their global empire. Both offered profuse apologies. Rupert Murdoch said the Dowler hacking had sickened and angered him more than anything in his life. He understood the "ire" of victims and would "work tirelessly to merit their forgiveness".
The company he founded had been caught with "dirty hands". "This is the most humble day of my life," he said.
Despite the unprecedented show of contrition, the hearing and another, separate Commons committee session with police chiefs and lawyers connected with phone hacking, threatened to deepen the scandal further.
James Murdoch conceded the company may still be paying legal fees and other money to Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who was jailed in 2007 for hacking phones for the 'News of the World'.
Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive, said that George Osborne, the UK chancellor, had been the driving force behind prime minister David Cameron hiring Andy Coulson, the former 'News of the World' editor.
A former director of public prosecutions said that "blindingly obvious" evidence of hacking and other crimes had lain in a secret News International (NI) file for four years before the company informed police.
Lawyers Harbottle and Lewis accused the company of refusing to release them from a confidentiality clause so they could defend themselves against allegations that they helped cover up the scandal.
Much of the MPs' questioning focused on NI's £700,000 payout to Gordon Taylor, the former head of the Professional Footballers' Association, whose phone was hacked.
As head of NI in Europe, James Murdoch authorised that deal, which obliged Mr Taylor to remain silent about the hacking and the payment.
James Murdoch denied suggestions the payment was meant to keep the scandal secret. But the committee also heard his father had not learned of the payment until 2009.
Asked who had first informed him of the phone-hacking issue, Rupert Murdoch replied: "I forget."
MPs asked him repeatedly about his contacts with journalists and editors involved in the scandal. He denied any direct knowledge, saying of several senior staff now implicated: "I never heard of them."
Mr Murdoch's answers left him facing questions about his responsibilities as chairman and chief executive of News Corp, the global parent company of NI. News Corp shares were up nearly 6pc at close of trading in New York, following discussions among its directors about possibly replacing Mr Murdoch as chief executive.
Tom Watson, a Labour MP, repeatedly challenged him about his personal responsibility for the British operation.
James Murdoch tried to stop Mr Watson pressing his father, but the MP insisted: "Your father has responsibility for corporate governance. It's revealing, what he didn't know, or people didn't tell him."
Rupert Murdoch said he was not "hands off" but added: "The 'News of the World', perhaps I lost sight of, because it was so small in the general frame of our company."
When asked if he accepted personal responsibility for the wrongdoing, he said: "No." Responsibility lay with his managers, he said.