- Associated Press - Thursday, November 10, 2011

LONDON (AP) — James Murdoch insisted Thursday that he had been kept in the dark about the culture of criminality at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, telling a committee of often-skeptical British lawmakers that he had been blindsided by his subordinates.

In more than 2½ of testimony, Mr. Murdoch accused two former lieutenants of misleading both him and parliamentarians over the scope of a phone-hacking scandal that has shaken his father, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

“Any suspicion of wider-spread wrongdoing, none of these things were mentioned to me,” the junior Mr. Murdoch said, taking largely the same stance he took before the parliamentary committee during testimony in July.

Mr. Murdoch’s repeated denials that he had seen critical evidence of widespread criminality at his company prompted derisive comments from the lawmakers investigating the scandal.

“You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t think he was running a criminal enterprise,” said Labor lawmaker Tom Watson, a strident Murdoch critic.

Mr. Murdoch, stony-faced, called the comment inappropriate.

He laid the blame squarely at the door of the News of the World’s former editor, Colin Myler, and News International’s former legal adviser, Tom Crone, both of whom insist that they briefed Mr. Murdoch as long ago as early 2008 about damning evidence that proved that phone hacking went much further than previously had been acknowledged.

“I believe their testimony was misleading, and I dispute it,” Mr. Murdoch said.

The finger-pointing follows months of drip-drip revelations that undermined Mr. Murdoch’s credibility.

Mr. Crone and Mr. Myler’s account of events has called Mr. Murdoch’s credibility into question. Documents published in the months since the younger Mr. Murdoch’s earlier appearance in Parliament — in which he insisted he was not informed of the scale of the scandal — have been particularly damning.

One, written by a senior lawyer, warned Rupert Murdoch’s News International that there was “overwhelming evidence” that some of its most senior journalists had been involved in illegal practices.

“No documents were shown to me,” the junior Mr. Murdoch said.

Mr. Murdoch responded to questions quickly and confidently — occasionally striking an apologetic tone when questions steered him toward his company’s failure to get to grips with the scandal.

He said that executives at the company had given assurances and that the company “relied on those assurances for too long.”

“I’m sorry for that,” he said.

He also apologized for the use of a private investigator to tail the lawyers of phone-hacking victims, calling the practice “appalling.”

He blamed Mr. Crone and another unnamed former News of the World employee for commissioning the surveillance, adding that it was “something I would never condone.”

Mr. Crone did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Mr. Myler’s telephone number is unlisted, and a letter sent to him more than a month ago has gone unanswered.

The phone-hacking scandal has thrown News International, the British newspaper arm of media conglomerate News Corp., into turmoil, forcing the closure of the News of the World and scuttling a multibillion-pound bid for full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Revelations that journalists routinely intercepted the voice mails of public figures — including celebrities, politicians, police and even crime victims — also have sent shock waves throughout the British establishment.

Mr. Murdoch’s appearance had high stakes: Investors have become increasingly restive as the scandal continues to spread. Mr. Murdoch’s position as heir apparent to his father’s company is under threat.

More revelations are possible, and at one point lawmakers asked whether Mr. Murdoch was aware of phone hacking at the Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling daily. Mr. Murdoch declined comment, citing ongoing investigations. He refused to say whether he would close the Sun if evidence of phone hacking emerged there as well.

Separately, Scotland Yard chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said police were working their way through some 300 million emails from News International.

Some 120 officers and staff are investigating the phone-hacking scandal. The force said it had contacted less than a third of the News of the World’s nearly 6,000 potential victims.

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