‘Operation Elveden’ scrutinises media mogul’s explosive comments at private meeting
By Mark Watts and Mike Deri Smith | 9 July 2013
Exaro can reveal that the Metropolitan Police Service has opened a fresh line of enquiry in ‘Operation Elveden’, which is investigating bribery of officials by journalists, following our exposure of secretly-recorded comments by Murdoch.
We teamed up with Channel 4 News to expose the story last Wednesday. It sent shockwaves around the world, with calls for authorities in both the UK and the US to investigate Murdoch’s private comments.
Murdoch met nearly two dozen journalists on The Sun – most of whom had been arrested by Operation Elveden – at the newspaper’s headquarters in March.
Following our release of the full transcript of the meeting – together with audio of Murdoch – the Met last Friday made a formal request to Exaro for the “Rupert Murdoch tape”.
Exaro responded by pointing out that we only had audio clips of Murdoch’s comments at the private meeting, not a recording of the entire session.
But a detective chief inspector on Operation Elveden made clear that the audio of Murdoch’s comments was relevant to its investigation because it “may contain evidence of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.”
It marks the first time that Operation Elveden is known to be scrutinising Murdoch’s personal role in the practice of paying officials for information.
Operation Elveden has so far arrested 70 people, including journalists for allegedly making such payments and officials who are accused of receiving them. Most of the journalists arrested work on The Sun.
Murdoch controls News UK – formerly known as News International – which owns The Sun as well as The Times and The Sunday Times. It also owned the News of the World before the title was closed two years ago in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
In the most explosive part of the recording of the private meeting at The Sun’s headquarters in London, Murdoch implicitly – but clearly – admits to knowing for decades that his newspaper journalists were bribing public officials.
On the recording, one staffer on the red-top tabloid says to him: “Completely oblivious to the fact that the long-term practice of this company to pay public officials was illegal, my job description meant that as a result of that, it came directly through my particular department.”
“You can understand how we all feel that we are effectively being made scapegoats.”
Murdoch replies: “Yeah. And one of these high-priced lawyers would say it’s our fault, but that situation existed at every newspaper in Fleet Street. Long since forgotten. But absolutely.”
“It was the culture of Fleet Street.”
A Sun journalist says: “I’m pretty confident that the working practices that I’ve seen here are ones that I’ve inherited, rather than instigated. Would you recognise that all this pre-dates many of our involvement here?”
Murdoch: “We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it.”
Murdoch went on to reveal how the News of the World, dating back to when he bought it in 1969, kept cash in a safe because, he explained, “Sometimes the editor needs some on a Saturday night for powerful friends.”
News UK denied in a statement that Murdoch knew about payments by his journalists to police before the company disclosed the practice to the authorities.
The seething anger of journalists on The Sun towards their employer is clear from the meeting.
Exaro also obtained an audio clip of the final five minutes of the meeting, which ended in high emotion as The Sun’s agony aunt, Deidre Sanders, read out to Murdoch a heart-felt letter from the wife of one of the newspaper’s executives.
Exaro has uploaded all the audio from the meeting in our possession.
Detectives requested our audio files of the material because these would be “more practical” for their investigation. They undertook to use them only for the purposes of their investigation.
Exaro was today arranging to supply the evidence to Operation Elveden.
Update 6.15pm 9 July 2013: The House of Commons culture, media and sport committee today announced that it was recalling Rupert Murdoch to answer questions from MPs about his comments as captured on the secret recording exposed by Exaro.
MPs on the committee want to quiz Murdoch about the apparent contradictions between those private comments and his previous testimony to them.
It is understood that a majority of MPs on the committee voted for the recall.
John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said that a date had yet to be set for the hearing.
The committee’s staff sent a formal letter to Murdoch to ask him to appear.
A spokeswoman for News UK was unable to say whether Murdoch would agree to reappear before the the committee, saying: “We have not received any official notification. Until we receive official confirmation, we cannot comment.”
The development came on the same day that Exaro revealed how the police are investigating Murdoch’s personal knowledge of payments to police and other public officials by his journalists.
Tom Watson, a Labour MP on the committee, said that it was a “massive result” for Exaro.
Update 7.45pm 9 July 2013: Meanwhile, Cressida Dick, assistant commissioner at the Met, said at an appearance today before the House of Commons home affairs committee that police were “seeking to obtain” audio of “the meeting during which Rupert Murdoch appears to have been recorded.”
She added: “We will then assess the full contents.”
She also confirmed, as revealed by Murdoch in the recording, that News UK had become less co-operative with police. She said: “Since May of this year, voluntary co-operation has been signiciantly reduced.”
In further confirmation of Murdoch’s private comments, she added: “All requests for new material are now supervised by the courts.”
Update 10 July 2013: A spokesman for News UK’s parent company, News Corporation, said: “Mr Murdoch welcomes the opportunity to return to the select committee, and answer their questions. He looks forward to clearing up any misconceptions as soon as possible.”