Two former News of the World executives accused James Murdoch on Thursday of misleading a parliamentary committee in testimony he gave about the phone-hacking scandal at the now defunct newspaper.
Mr. Murdoch told the committee that, when he signed off on a reported £700,000 payout to a victim of the scandal, he had not been made aware of an email that would demonstrated the falsity of the newspaper’s claim that only one “rogue reporter” had been involved in phone hacking.
But Colin Myler, editor of the paper until it was shut down two weeks ago, and Tom Crone, the paper’s former head of legal affairs, said they had expressly told Mr. Murdoch of the email.
John Whittingdale, chairman of the committee, said: “We as a committee regarded the...email as one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry. We will be asking James Murdoch to respond and ask him to clarify.”
He said the email was “one of the few available pieces of evidence showing that this activity was not confined just to Clive Goodman.” Goodman was the paper’s royal correspondent and went to jail over the hacking.
After Mr. Myler and Mr. Crone spoke out, News Corporation issued this statement: “James Murdoch stands by his testimony to the select committee.”
The statement by the two executives referred to a payout to Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers Association, whose phone was hacked by the newspaper. Earlier this month Mr. Murdoch said he had been wrong to settle the suit brought by Mr. Taylor, saying he did not have “a complete picture of the case” at the time.
The email in dispute was one known as “for Neville,” referring to the paper’s former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, who was arrested in April on suspicion of illegally accessing emails. The email, from a junior reporter at the newspaper, referred to a transcript of a hacked phone conversation by Mr. Taylor and said: “Hello, this is the transcript for Neville.”
At a hearing on Tuesday, committee member Tom Watson asked Mr. Murdoch: “When you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?”
Mr. Murdoch replied: “No, I was not aware of that at the time.”
Mr. Watson went on to ask why he paid an “astronomical sum” to Mr. Taylor when other cases had been settled for far less. Mr. Murdoch said he acted because the newspaper was certain to lose the case and would have had to pay out a similar amount if it went to trial.
Witnesses before the committee do not testify under oath but are instructed to tell the truth.
The two former News of the World executives said Mr. Murdoch’s account of the transaction was “mistaken.”
“In fact, we did inform him of the ‘for Neville’ email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor’s lawyers.”
Their statement revives suspicions that Mr. Murdoch settled a large sum on Mr. Taylor as a way of buying his silence about the scope of phone hacking at the paper.
In another development, a former editorial executive of the News of the World whose name has come up in connection with the scandal told Channel 4 News in London he planned to return voluntarily to Britain from the United States to face questioning by police.
Greg Miskiw, 61, who left the newspaper in 2005, declined to say if he had authorized phone hacking while there. He also refused to answer questions about former editor Andy Coulson, who was arrested two weeks ago, and Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International in Britain, who was arrested last Sunday.
Meantime the Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper announced it had fired its features editor, Matt Nixson, a former news editor at the News of World under Mr. Coulson, as part of its own investigation into phone hacking. His computer was seized, but no details of his alleged activities disclosed.
Prime Minister David Cameron hired Mr. Coulson as his communications chief when he took office last year and has been under fire for showing lack of judgment in doing so.
In a statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Cameron refused several times to say directly if he had discussed Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy full ownership of British Sky Broadcasting during 26 meetings he held with Murdoch executives since taking office.
Later his aides conceded the bid had been discussed but said there was nothing inappropriate about that because Mr. Cameron did not refer the conversations to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had responsibility for deciding on the bid.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed on Thursday he was among people who warned Mr. Cameron against the Coulson appointment.
At a news conference, he said the phone-hacking scandal has uncovered “murky practices and dodgy relationships” at the heart of Britain’s establishment.
He said a forthcoming judicial inquiry will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to clean up the worlds of politics, press and police—by legislation if necessary.
(Ray Moseley is a London-based former chief European correspondent of the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)