By Robert Budden and Helen Warrell
Rupert Murdoch has complained to MPs about the protracted and “excessive” police investigation into phone hacking and other abuses by journalists at News Corp’s UK newspapers.
In a letter to Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, the executive chairman of News Corp questioned whether police had approached the investigation “with an appropriate sense of proportion”.
He was writing to clarify his views after the broadcast this month of secretly recorded comments to Sun journalists in which he dismissed parts of the police probe as “the biggest inquiry ever over next to nothing”.
Mr Murdoch expressed regret for his choice of words “in that highly emotional meeting” and insisted he “did not intend to suggest that any violations of the law are tolerable or acceptable”.
However, he made clear his frustration with the “human cost” on his journalists, some of whom are still awaiting charging decisions after more than a year under investigation.
Mr Murdoch said he should not have questioned the competence of police but added: “My personal view is that this has gone on too long.”
Mr Vaz wrote to Mr Murdoch last week seeking clarification of his views. “I am glad that he has confirmed he does not think the police investigations are incompetent,” the Labour MP said.
In the secret recordings Mr Murdoch had referred to News Corp’s internal management and standards committee (MSC), which co-operated with police investigations, as “a mistake”.
But, in his letter, he stressed how the media group had “volunteered the material that fuelled all these investigations”.
“It would not be fair even to suggest that our company has impeded the [Metropolitan Police]. The opposite is true,” he wrote.
He revealed for the first time the extent of the MSC’s investigations, saying it reviewed more than 23m electronic documents and disclosed more than 500,000 documents after 185,000 man hours of work.
The total cost was over £65m, he writes.
The comments will be seen as an attempt by the media mogul to dampen criticism of News Corp just weeks after the company’s faster-growing entertainment assets were split from its newspaper and publishing businesses and shortly before the trials of former News International journalists and editors begin.
Mr Murdoch has agreed to appear before the culture, media and sport select committee this year.