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'I could have asked more questions' – James Murdoch

Published:Thursday | March 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

News
Corp. executive James Murdoch acknowledged Wednesday that he could have done
more to get to grips with the phone hacking scandal that has rocked Britain and
threatened his place as the likely heir to his father's global media empire.

Murdoch's
admission came in a seven-page letter written to British parliamentarians
investigating the scandal. In it, the 39-year-old repeated his insistence that
he didn't know the extent of the illegal behavior at his now-defunct News of
the World tabloid newspaper, saying that the details had been hidden from him
by members of his staff.

"It
would have been better if I had asked more questions," Murdoch said.
"However the truth is that incomplete answers and what now appear to be
false assurances were given to the questions that I asked."

Murdoch
has already appeared twice before lawmakers, who grilled him in detail about
what he knew about the phone hacking scandal and alleged attempts to conceal
evidence of illegal activity.

Murdoch
was the one who signed off on a substantial settlement to one of the first
known victims of the practice, a deal which the company's former in-house
lawyer has acknowledged was aimed at keeping a lid on the scandal.

Critics
say that shows that Murdoch was either in on the cover up or too incompetent to
realize what he was agreeing to.

In
his letter, Murdoch mounted his most detailed defence yet, accusing his former
lieutenants of working behind his back, acting without his authorization, and
giving inconsistent testimony to Parliament.

In
contrast, he said, "My evidence has always been consistent."

It's
not certain whether lawmakers will accept that last claim. Murdoch initially
denied knowing anything about a critical piece of evidence which suggested, as
far back as 2008, that illegal behaviour went much further than was being
publicly acknowledged.

Contradicted
by former members of staff, Murdoch later changed his story, saying that while
he was told about the damning evidence its importance wasn't explained to him.

News
International's attempts to conceal the scope of the scandal fell apart after
the Guardian and The New York Times revealed that phone hacking was endemic at
the News of the World, an expose which has led to the paper's closure and the
arrests of dozens of journalists and other officials.

News
International, the British newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has
made cash settlements to 58 victims, including celebrities, politicians and the
families of crime victims.

Murdoch
himself has resigned from News International, although he retains a senior
position in News Corp., and said in his letter that those who saw his
resignation as a tacit admission of guilt were wrong.

"I
have not misled Parliament," he said. "I did not know about, nor did
I try to hide, wrongdoing."

AP