– News Corp boss secretly recorded during meeting with Sun journalists
– Suggested they could get their jobs back even if convicted and jailed
– Said he regretted co-operating so closely with police investigation
Rupert Murdoch has hit out at police investigating allegations of phone-hacking and illegal police payments by journalists at his media empire.
The News Corp mogul described officers as ‘totally incompetent’, claiming that the alleged crimes they were investigating were ‘next to nothing’.
He also suggested that co-operating with the investigation was ‘a mistake’, claiming that the company had taken a much more defensive attitude in recent months, and promised to support his employees even if they are imprisoned.
The extraordinary comments, which contradict many of Mr Murdoch’s public statements on the hacking scandal, came to light thanks to a secret recording made during a meeting with journalists from The Sun at its headquarters in Wapping, East London.
Mr Murdoch criticised the long-running police investigation into the hacking and corruption allegations, which saw the News of the World shut down by News Corp and has led to the arrest of more than 20 journalists from The Sun as well as a number of serving police officers.
‘It’s a disgrace,’ he said. ‘Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent. The idea that the cops then started coming after you, kick you out of bed, and your families, at six in the morning, is unbelievable.
‘But why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing. And now they’re arresting their own, who never even took money… They’re going to put all newspapers out of business.’
Contrast: Mr Murdoch appeared much more humble at a parliamentary hearing in 2011 with his son James.
He specifically pointed to the arrest of Rebekah Brooks, former editor of The Sun and chief executive of News International, claiming that ‘a murder squad’ burst into her home.
‘The people who came in and turned over Rebekah on Monday morning, there were about 15 or 16 – most of them, a dozen, were from Manchester, a murder squad or something,’ he said.
One journalist present pointed out that much of the evidence used to arrest News Corp employees had apparently come from the company itself and was handed over to police by the management and standards committee.
‘It was a mistake, I think,’ Mr Murdoch replied. ‘But in that atmosphere, at that time, we said, “Look, we are an open book, we will show you everything.” And the lawyers just got rich going through millions of emails.
‘All I can say is, for the last several months, we have told, the MSC has told, and [name withheld], who’s a terrific lawyer, has told the police, has said “No, no, no – get a court order. Deal with that.”‘
Troubled: Dozens of staff at Mr Murdoch’s News International have been arrested over allegations of phone-hacking or illegal payments to public officials.
The 82-year-old appeared to suggest that any journalists who were convicted and jailed in connection with the inquiry could get their jobs back, although he was apparently reluctant to say so explicitly.
‘I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted and get six months or whatever,’ he said.
‘You’re all innocent until proven guilty. What you’re asking is: what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I’m not allowed to promise you – I will promise you continued health support – but your jobs. I’ve got to be careful what comes out – but, frankly, I won’t say it, but just trust me.’
Mr Murdoch gave a hint to his succession plans for News Corp when he was asked what would happen if he was not around to help the affected journalists.
He said: ‘The decision would be – well, it will either be with my son, Lachlan, or with [News Corp CEO] Robert Thomson. And you don’t have any worries about either of them.’
Criticism: The News Corp boss hit out at the arrest of Rebekah Brooks by a ‘murder squad’.
The maverick businessman claimed that the investigation into his company was a vindictive attempt by its enemies to redress old grievances with The Sun.
‘We’re being picked on,’ he said. ‘I think it was the old Right-wing establishment… and the Left-wing get-even crowd of Gordon Brown.
‘There was a sort of – we got caught with dirty hands, I guess, with the News of the World, and everybody piled in. It was a get-even time for things that were done with The Sun over the last 40 years.’
Labour MP Tom Watson said Mr Murdoch’s comments contrasted with his contrite appearance before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee two years ago.
‘Rupert Murdoch told Parliament one thing and told his staff another,’ he told Channel 4 News. He told Parliament that he was fully co-operating with the police, he told his staff that it was a mistake they were co-operating with the police.’
‘There is a man who sat before Parliament and said he had the highest integrity, they were working their way through it, co-operating with the police, and people who hacked phones or paid police would be immediately dealt with, and then you hear him assuring people that if they go to jail they might get their jobs back.’
A spokesman for News Corp told Channel 4 News: ‘No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again.
‘The unprecedented co-operation granted by News Corp was agreed unanimously by senior management and the board, and the MSC continues to co-operate under the supervision of the courts. Rupert Murdoch has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty.’