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James Murdoch to face second grilling by UK lawmakers

/ Source: news services

James Murdoch is being recalled for another grilling before Britain's Parliament after former News Corp. executives raised serious doubts about his account of his role in the country's tabloid phone hacking scandal.

The committee of lawmakers investigating the scandal hopes to tie up "one or two loose ends" by recalling the younger Murdoch, committee Chairman John Whittingdale said Tuesday. The committee said News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch — who appeared alongside his son at a July 19 U.K. hearing that was televised around the world — was not being recalled.

The two Murdochs gave a dramatic performance earlier this summer, apologizing for a scandal that has shaken Britain's establishment but refusing to accept responsibility for the illegal behavior which happened at newspapers under their watch.

But a string of ex-News Corp. employees have cast doubt on several claims made by the father-and-son media magnates.

Former News of the World tabloid editor Colin Myler and former legal adviser Tom Crone insisted that James Murdoch was wrong when he claimed not to have been aware of a critical piece of evidence suggesting that illegal espionage was far more widespread at the tabloid then was being claimed at the time.

Myler and Crone insist that Murdoch was explicitly told about the evidence in a 2008 meeting — raising the possibility that James Murdoch authorized a massive phone hacking payout in an effort to bury the scandal and then lied to parliament about it in July.

"Clearly, there are different accounts which we have heard," Whittingdale told Sky News television. "We have spent some time questioning Tom Crone and Colin Myler last week about their version of what happened. We would want to put that to James Murdoch and hear more about how he recalls the meeting."

Contradictory evidence?
James Murdoch has stood by his testimony and his company has criticized Myler and Crone's evidence as confused and contradictory. A spokeswoman for News Corp., where James Murdoch serves as deputy chief operating officer, said he was "happy to appear in front of the select committee to answer any further questions."

Alice Macandrew said the company would "await details of the committee's request."

Whittingdale told Sky that his committee was "beginning to reach the end of its deliberations" but didn't give a specific date for the new testimony. He also said he wanted to quiz Les Hinton, Rupert Murdoch's former right-hand man, and Mark Lewis, a lawyer for many people who have sued the tabloid for hacking into their phones.

Neither Hinton nor Lewis immediately returned messages seeking comment. Hinton, the former publisher of Murdoch's U.S. flagship, The Wall Street Journal, is the most senior executive to resign in the hacking scandal.

The questioning is likely to be very precise. The committee has appeared at times exasperated in its bid to find out who authorized the phone hacking after it became clear that it was happening on an almost industrial scale to secure stories.

Members have interviewed a host of senior News Corp. executives, lawyers and former editors, appearing incredulous at times as witnesses have denied all knowledge of the hacking and pleaded that they cannot remember who said or did what when.

Crone and Myler often said that the committee would "have to ask Les Hinton about that", when they appeared before the committee a week ago.

Shareholders file suit Meanwhile it emerged Tuesday that the board of News Corp. knew more than 10 years ago that the company's U.S. subsidiaries were illegally hacking competitors' computers, according to a revised lawsuit filed by shareholders.

The board of directors failed to properly oversee the company's chairman and founder, Rupert Murdoch, according to a copy of the amended complaint provided by lawyers for the plaintiffs Tuesday.

"The Board has not lifted a finger to engage in any oversight of Murdoch's rule, even when it was provided with clear and unmistakable warnings that News Corp's business practices were not only unethical, but also illegal," said the complaint, filed in Delaware Chancery Court.

News Corp. has been engulfed by the scandal since July when it was revealed that the phone hacking extended beyond celebrities and politicians to murder victims including schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and British war dead.

The crisis has already wiped billions of dollars off News Corp.'s market value, cost it two senior executives, forced it to drop a $12 billion bid for BSkyB and to shut down the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid.

James Murdoch, News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer, has seen his chances of succeeding his father and founder of the media empire, Rupert, recede.

At least 16 people have been arrested over the scandal, including Andy Coulson, the former top communications aide for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Murdoch was forced to shut down the top-selling tabloid and abandon his multibillion-pound (dollar) bid for full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB in the wake of the hacking controversy.

Several senior Murdoch aides, as well as two British police leaders, have also had to resign.

In a separate development Tuesday, a lawyer said in a British High Court that the mother of a July 7, 2005 London transit bombing victim was among those suing the News of the World over allegations of illegal espionage.

Hugh Tomlinson says Sheila Henry, whose son Christian Small was killed in the 2005 suicide bombings, was among those seeking damages from the now-defunct British paper.

It wasn't immediately clear whether she or her son had been spied upon by News of the World journalists.