Rupert Murdoch admits cover-up but blames his employees for it

'I was the victim - it's cost me hundreds of millions of pounds,' a vicious Murdoch tells Leveson

Column LAST UPDATED AT 13:53 ON Thu 26 Apr 2012

RUPERT MURDOCH finally admitted today there had been a "cover-up" to hide the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World. However, it was orchestrated not by him or his family, but by senior staff at the Sunday tabloid - and he claimed he was a victim of it.

During much tougher questioning at the Leveson Inquiry by Robert Jay QC, Murdoch insisted: "There was no attempt by me to cover it up."

Asked by counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, where the "cover-up" emanated from, he replied "I think from within the News of the World."

Murdoch also pointed the finger at an unnamed senior lawyer with News International who advised reporters, he claimed, to keep the information about hacking from his son, James Murdoch, and from Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International.

"There were one or two very strong characters there who I think had been there many, many years and were friends of the journalists.

"The person I am thinking of was a friend of the journalists, drinking pal, and was a clever lawyer and forbade them to go and see the evidence, or there have been statements reporting that this person forbade people to go and report to Mrs Brooks or James."

"That is not to excuse it on our behalf at all. I take it extremely seriously that that situation had arisen."

The discovery last summer that the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had had her phone hacked was "certainly a serious blot on my reputation".

The 81-year-old media tycoon went on: "When the Milly Dowler situation was given huge publicity… I panicked. But I am glad I did."

Describing the public outrage over the Dowler revelation, he added: "You could feel the blast coming through the window." He said he wished he had closed the NotW "years ago".

Murdoch repeatedly distinguished between his love for The Sun and his near hatred for the now defunct News of the World. He blamed the NotW hacking scandal for the failure of his controversial bid to take overall control of BSkyB, saying the scandal had cost him "hundreds of millions of pounds".

This was a very different performance from 24 hours earlier. Gone was the affable old man, ready with jokes.

Murdoch today was bitter and viciously lashed out at many of his former colleagues – Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World who went on to work as David Cameron's media consultant; Coulson's replacement as editor, Colin Myler ("he would not have been my choice"); Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, whom he said he had once tried to hire to edit The Times; and Andrew Neil, the Sunday Times editor turned TV presenter ("Mr Neil seems to have found it very profitable to spread lies about me").

He pointed the finger at Coulson for being responsible for covering up the hacking scandal and keeping the extent of the illegal activity concealed from the Murdoch 'clan' - himself, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the ex-chief executive of News International.

"I think senior executives were misinformed and shielded from what was going on there. I blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn't name because for all I know they may be arrested yet," he said.

"But there is no question in my mind that maybe even the editor [Coulson] but certainly behind that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret that."

Murdoch's evidence turns on its head the allegations made before the earlier Commons select committee inquiry that Murdoch and his son, James, were responsible for the cover-up by relying on a flawed police investigation that concluded that hacking at News International was limited to one rogue reporter.

The stress this saga has caused the media mogul appeared to show today, with Murdoch facing fresh calls from shareholders in the US to step down as chairman and CEO of News Corp because of a "lax ethical culture" under his family's rule.

Murdoch clearly believes that the hacking scandal has caused him dear and fears it could cost him more. His former editors are almost certain now to accuse him of lashing out against them without evidence. ·