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News Corp. Hits Back at Leveson Lawyer

Ben Fenton

News Corp. hit back at assertions made by the Leveson inquiry’s lawyer last week that its chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch may have been lying to it when he gave evidence.

Rupert Murdoch speaks before Parliament.

As part of a two-pronged fightback by the company, Rhodri Davies QC, counsel for its subsidiary News International, told the inquiry that attacks on Mr. Murdoch were based on no evidence and came from the “world of fantasy.”

He said Robert Jay QC, the counsel for the inquiry, had been wrong to criticize Mr. Murdoch, who gave evidence in April, after he had left the witness box.

Opening the third phase of the inquiry, looking into relations between press and politicians, Mr. Jay suggested last week that Mr. Murdoch’s failure to remember a crucial meeting in 1981 with Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister, could be seen as “selective amnesia.”

While there was no record of a deal by which Mr. Murdoch was able to buy The Times and The Sunday Times without a reference to competition regulators, it might well have happened through a more subtle process of suggestion, he said.

He added that the inquiry was entitled to wonder whether Mr. Murdoch’s evidence “might bear on his integrity.”

But Mr. Davies said this attack, which he said was expanded to suggest a sinister basis for the whole of News Corp.’s dealings in the UK, was based on a false premise, and he cited documents showing that no favor was shown to Mr. Murdoch in 1981.

Mr. Jay’s statement was one in which “metaphors take the place of evidence,” he said, and rebuked Mr Jay for opening the important phase of the inquiry with a series of accusations based on nothing but innuendo.

“Mr. Murdoch has nothing to hide about the events of January 1981. There is no basis for Mr. Jay’s airing of delayed doubts over his credibility. That suggestion had no place in Mr. Jay’s opening,” Mr. Davies said.

He said the basis for the attack on News Corp.’s first and critical acquisition in the UK had “been demolished” and so any insinuations that followed from it were equally invalid.