Leveson inquiry: Murdoch regrets not closing NotW 'years ago' and admits 'cover-up'

  • Media tycoon apologises over phone-hacking and admits "I failed"
  • Says he never met culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to discuss BSkyB bid

Murdoch: I didn't meet Hunt on BSkyB

Murdoch: I didn't meet Hunt on BSkyB
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Rupert Murdoch has said he wanted to close the News of the World years ago, but resisted because he thought half the paper's readers wouldn't read the Sun instead.

He also insisted he was the victim of a "cover-up" over the phone-hacking scandal, and that top executives at his company were not informed, or misinformed, and "shielded" from what was really going on.

Mr Murdoch was giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which is examining the standards and behaviour of the UK media. It was his second day as a witness at the inquiry.

He told the hearings that he blamed "one or two people" for keeping him and senior colleagues in the dark over phone-hacking activities at the News of the World. "Perhaps I shouldn't name because for all I know they may be arrested yet," he said.

Mr Murdoch's company News International owned and published the News of the World. The newspaper was closed in July 2011 following the publication of hacking allegations.

"There is no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly behind that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret," Mr Murdoch added.

'All I can do is apologise'

Asked by counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC where the "cover-up" emanated from, Mr Murdoch replied: "I think from within the News of the World. There were one or two very strong characters there who I think had been there many, many years and were friends of the journalists.

"The person I am thinking of was a friend of the journalists, drinking pal, and was a clever lawyer and forbade them to go and see the evidence, or there have been statements reporting that this person forbade people to go and report to Mrs Brooks or James (Murdoch). That is not to excuse it on our behalf at all, I take it extremely seriously that that situation had arisen."

"I have to admit that some newspapers are closer to my heart than others but I also have to say that I failed. And I am very sorry about it."

Mr Murdoch said he had not paid enough attention to the News of the World, probably "throughout all the time that we have owned it".

"I was more interested in the excitement of building a new newspaper and doing other things," he said. "All I can do is apologise to a lot of people, including all the innocent people in the News of the World who lost their jobs as a result of that."

'I stand by every word'

Mr Murdoch also told the inquiry that he:

- regretted not shutting the News of the World sooner. "I'm sorry I didn't close [the News of the World] years before and put a Sun on Sunday in," he explained. "I tell you what held us back: News of the World readers. Only half of them read the Sun."

- had never sought the influence of political figures. "I don't ask any politician to scratch my back," he said.

- had no recollection of ever meeting the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. The government is under pressure over Mr Hunt's alleged links with News International during the company's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to take full control of BSkyB.

- does not tell journalists to promote his company's TV channels, shows, or films in his papers.

- "stands by every word" of his testimony, including his comments during Wednesday's hearings that former prime minister Gordon Brown was "unbalanced" and "pledged war" on Mr Murdoch's company.

- was "shocked" to hear from counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, that News International had not co-operated with a police investigation into phone-hacking.

- considered the News of the World was "interested in celebrities, just as the public is. A much greater investment went into covering the weekend soccer. Coverage of celebrities? Yes. Salacious gossip? No."