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NotW 'should have closed earlier'

Rupert Murdoch said he was sorry he did not close the News of the World years earlier as he claimed that executives at the paper "covered up" the phone-hacking scandal.

He blamed "one or two" senior figures at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid for "taking charge" of hiding evidence of wrong-doing and for misleading him but former NotW legal manager Tom Crone accused Mr Murdoch of a "shameful lie" after the tycoon suggested "a clever lawyer" was behind the cover up.

Finishing his two days of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, Mr Murdoch said the hacking scandal would be "a blot on my reputation for the rest of my life".

He admitted that he failed to keep a close enough eye on what was happening at the News of the World, which was closed last July after disclosures that it illegally intercepted murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemails.

Mr Murdoch, 81, claimed he was "misinformed" about the scale of hacking at the paper after royal editor Clive Goodman was jailed in January 2007 for listening to royal aides' phone messages and blamed "one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn't name because for all I know they may be arrested yet".

He suggested that this attempt to hide the extent of the criminality emanated "from within the News of the World", saying: "The person I am thinking of was a friend of the journalists, drinking pal, and was a clever lawyer and forbade them to go and see the evidence, or there have been statements reporting that this person forbade people to go and report to Mrs Brooks or James (Murdoch)."

Mr Crone said in a statement after the hearing that Mr Murdoch "could only" be referring to him, and added: "His assertion that I 'took charge of a cover-up' in relation to phone-hacking is a shameful lie.

"The same applies to his assertions that I misinformed senior executives about what was going on and that I forbade people from reporting to Rebekah Brooks or to James Murdoch."

Mr Murdoch said once he knew the extent of the problem at his UK newspapers subsidiary News International, he did everything he could to clean up the company and there was no attempt either at his level or several levels below to cover it up.

The Leveson Inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, was adjourned until May 9.

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