How James Murdoch’s phone-hacking cover-ups went belly-up

David Leigh writes: The wagons of the Murdoch media empire have long been circled protectively around one man, as the hacking scandal has raged on. Many other Murdoch myrmidons have been arrested, sacked, or turned out into the snow in his father’s brutal closure of the News of the World: but not him.

James Murdoch’s luck is still holding, in one way. The explosive news this week was that new evidence knocks a hole in his “I knew little” defence. But it failed to emerge in time to affect the recent shareholder revolt at BSkyB. For some reason, the News International group of executives and lawyers who are supposedly rooting out all evidence of malpractice, were a fraction slow in discovering this smouldering email chain and turning it over to a Commons committee. Had they been quicker, the outcome at Sky might have been different.

James’s luck has held in another way too. Some public attention has been distracted by the timing of Scotland Yard’s announcement that the murdered Milly Dowler’s voicemails were indeed hacked by exploitative NI journalists, but probably not additionally deleted on purpose. The NI attack dogs have been set to bay at maximum diversionary volume, even trying to accuse the Guardian, which originally reported the deletions, of deliberately “sexing up” their disclosures. Tellingly, even this week NI refuses to confirm or deny whether its journalists did delete Milly’s voice messages.

But in a more fundamental sense, James’s luck has finally run out. The publication of the newly discovered emails between him and the then editor of the News of the World, documents not only the mechanism of a big cover-up but also, crucially, the way that James has repeatedly shifted his story and sought to blame others. It is not a good look for the would-be captain of a mighty international corporation.

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