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British lawmakers recall Murdoch over phone-hacking evidence

Chairman and CEO of News Corporation Rupert Murdoch arrives at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 24, 2013. REUTERS/L
Chairman and CEO of News Corporation Rupert Murdoch arrives at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 24, 2013. REUTERS/L

By Michael Holden and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers said on Tuesday they would recall media mogul Rupert Murdoch to clarify evidence he gave to them last year after he was secretly recorded belittling a police inquiry into alleged crimes committed by journalists on his papers.

In a meeting with staff on his mass-selling Sun tabloid, Murdoch said he regretted helping a police inquiry into phone-hacking which has grown into a far wider investigation into alleged illegal reporting practices.

He suggested the industry had relied on such tactics for decades.

"Mr. Murdoch welcomes the opportunity to return to the Select Committee and answer their questions," a spokesman for News Corp said in an emailed statement.

"He looks forward to clearing up any misconceptions as soon as possible."

Murdoch, the head of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, had described himself as appalled by revelations of illegality and phone-hacking that engulfed his British newspaper business two years ago and severely damaged his reputation.

"This is the most humble day of my life," he told the committee during lengthy testimony with his son James during which a protester attacked him with a custard pie, provoking his now estranged wife Wendi Deng to leap to his aid.

However, after his comments to the Sun journalists were broadcast last week, lawmakers decided they wanted to question him again.

"The committee has voted to ask him to reappear in light of the comments he made to News International staff," committee chairman John Whittingdale told Reuters, adding that they had not yet set a date for the hearing.

The committee does not have the power to force Murdoch to appear and there was no immediate comment from News Corp.

Police re-launched an inquiry into claims of phone-hacking by journalists on Murdoch's News of the World tabloid in January 2011, but the scandal only really ignited in July that year when it was revealed reporters had accessed voicemails of a missing schoolgirl who was later found dead.

In the wake of public outrage, Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old paper and issued profuse public apologies.

But in the meeting with Sun staff, the media mogul railed against police and said he had cooperated too closely with detectives when an internal committee he set up supplied thousands of internal emails at the height of the scandal.

PAYMENTS FOR TIPS

Those emails helped police widen their inquiries to include allegations journalists had been paying public officials such as police and prison officers for information for stories, embroiling the News of the World's sister paper, the Sun.

"We're talking about payments for news tips from cops: that's been going on a hundred years," he said, adding that he remembered being told about the need for cash for "powerful friends" when he bought the News of the World in 1969.

He also criticized the police for their handling of the investigation. "Why are the police behaving in this way?" Murdoch said in the recording. "It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing."

In a further development on Tuesday, police said they were seeking to obtain a copy of the Murdoch recording.

"We are seeking to obtain ... the tape of the meeting during which Rupert Murdoch appears to have been recorded and we will then assess the full contents of that tape," London Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick told parliament's Home Affairs committee.

She also revealed News Corp was no longer cooperating with detectives as it had been.

"The relationship has always been a challenging one and since May of this year voluntary cooperation has been significantly reduced," she said.

The massive police investigation, which will have cost 38.8 million pounds ($57.5 million) by 2015, has led to 126 arrests, with six people convicted and a further 42 charged with a variety of offences. Police said they now believed there were 5,500 potential victims of phone-hacking.

Those charged include the Sun's deputy editor while Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both former News of the World editors and close associates of Prime Minister David Cameron, are due to go on trial in September accused of offences relating to phone-hacking and illegal payments.

Dick and the officer leading the inquiries said the "arrest phase" was drawing to a conclusion with less than 10 more people likely to be detained over the next few weeks and months.

(Editing by Michael Roddy, Bernard Orr)

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