British comedian convicted of Murdoch pie assault
A British man was convicted Friday of assaulting Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie at a parliamentary hearing into phone-hacking, as MPs demanded the tycoon and his son clarify their evidence from the session.
The James Murdoch-chaired British pay-TV giant BSkyB meanwhile tried to calm the waters by offering £1.0 billion (1.13 billion euros, $1.63 billion) in payouts to shareholders after the hacking scandal derailed a takeover bid by the Murdochs’ US-based News Corp.
The crisis has rocked Britain and shaken News Corp., but it also provided a bizarre interlude on July 19 when protester Jonathan May-Bowles splattered Murdoch with foam as the media mogul was being quizzed by lawmakers.
On Friday the 26-year-old, a comedian who goes by the stage name of Jonnie Marbles, pleaded guilty at City of Westminster Magistrates court in London to assault and to causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Leaving court, May-Bowles echoed the 80-year-old Murdoch’s own statement to parliamentary media committee hearing, telling reporters: “This has been the most humble day of my life.”
The hearing was adjourned for pre-sentencing reports and May-Bowles was ordered to return to court to be sentenced next Tuesday.
District judge Daphne Wickham warned that it was a “serious offence which carries a risk of imprisonment.”
Murdoch and his son James were answering questions from lawmakers on the phone-hacking scandal at the News Corp-owned News of the World, which was closed down on July 7 amid public outrage.
The chairman of the media committee, John Whittingdale, said on Friday that he would be writing to James Murdoch about his testimony.
“Certain individuals have raised questions about some of the evidence we have received. As a result of that, we are going to write to ask for further details from various areas where evidence is disputed,” he said.
It will also write to two former News of the World executives who said James Murdoch gave misleading evidence over how much he knew about the extent of hacking at the paper when he authorised a key payout to a victim in 2008.
The committee said it would not yet recall James Murdoch to testify again.
BSkyB confirmed Friday that James Murdoch would remain as chairman, as it posted bumper operating profits of £1.073 billion ($1.74 billion, 1.22 billion euros) in the 12 months to June, up 23 percent on the previous year.
But Britain’s biggest satellite broadcaster said it also planned a share buyback of £750 million ($1.22 billion, 857 million euros) and dividend of £253 million — moves seen as calming the waters after a recent share price collapse.
The scandal had sparked calls for James Murdoch to resign the chairmanship of BSkyB, after two other Murdoch aides, Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, resigned from key posts in News Corp., but the company’s board has given him its unanimous support.
“Following the withdrawal of the News Corporation proposal, the board will return to normal processes. James Murdoch remains chairman,” BSkyB said in its annual results statement.
BSkyB’s shares were up 0.35 percent at 718.5 pence in midday deals in London.
Two people were jailed in 2007 over hacking at the News of the World but the slow-burn scandal exploded on July 4 this year when it emerged the paper had hacked the voicemail messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
A judge-led inquiry into the scandal opened on Thursday.
Hours later fresh allegations emerged that an investigator blamed for much of the hacking had targeted the mother of Sarah Payne, a second murdered girl, on whose behalf the paper had campaigned.
Ten people have been arrested since a police investigation was reopened in January. One of them was Andy Coulson, former NotW editor and media chief of Prime Minister David Cameron, bringing the scandal to the door of Downing Street.
The scandal claimed its latest victim on Friday when the head of Britain’s beleaguered Press Complaints Commission, Peta Buscombe, announced she will not renew her contract when it expires in the New Year.
Two of Britain’s top policeman have also resigned over Scotland Yard’s links to Murdoch’s empire.