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Murdoch journalist says phone hacking of private phones "a perfectly acceptable tool."

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Rupert Murdoch

If you want to know how low journalism sank at the British tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch just read the following evidence given today by John McMullen, one of Murdoch's top tabloid reporters at the News of the World.

The key sentence he uses is " I think phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool."

Asked if he had taken part in hacking he said "We did all these things for our editors, for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson."

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He said "My assertion has always been that Andy Coulson brought that practice wholesale with him when he was appointed deputy editor, an appointment I could not believe."

"They should have had the strength of their conviction to say, 'I know, yes sometimes you have to enter into a grey area or enter a black illegal area for the good of our readers, for the public good, and yes we asked our reporters to do these things'.

"But instead they turned around on us and said, 'oh, we didn't know they were doing it, oh heavens, it was all just Clive Goodman and later it was just a few others'.

"They should have been the heroes of journalism, but they aren't, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, they are the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it."

Hacking was a common "school yard trick" - calling a number, pressing 9 to access voicemail, then typing in 0000, often the standard passcode.

"Once I rang up David Beckham expecting his phone to ring because he would never normally answer the phone to me.

"But he did and it was, 'Hello, who is this, and how did you get my number?', and I went, 'Oh 9, too late'.

"So I didn't hack his phone in that instance because he answered really quickly."

He said Glenn Mulcaire was "much better at these things than your rank-and-file journalist".

McMullan told the inquiry hacking was in the public interest, saying it should not have been limited to "MI5 and MI6".

"For a brief period of about 20 years we have actually lived in a free society where we can hack back," he said.

"And if you start jailing journalists for that, then this is going to be a country that is laughed at by Iran and by China and by Turkey.

"Surely to prove that our politicians are dishonest men, and as such may have dishonest motives when they sent our boys to be killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan, is more important than jailing me for saying I hacked David Beckham's phone, for example, if I was going to say that."

"All I have ever tried to do is to write truthful articles and to use any means necessary to try to get to the truth.

"There's so many barriers in the way that sometimes you have to enter a grey area that I think we should sometimes be applauded for entering because it's a very dangerous area.

"My life has been at risk many times, at home more than in war zones. I used to get a death threat at least once a month for 15 years of my career.

"I sacrificed a lot to write truthful articles for the biggest circulation English language paper in the world and I was quite happy and proud to do it, which is why I think phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool given the sacrifices we made if all we are trying to do it to get to the truth."

Mr McMullan defended the choice of stories run by the News of the World.

"I see no difference between what the public is interested in and the public interest.

"Surely they are clever enough to make a decision whether or not they want to put their hand in their pocket and bring out a pound and buy it.

"The reason why the News of the World sold five million copies was because there were five million thinking readers and that's what drove the paper."

He said there was a pressure to build up a list of contacts to provide a range of stories.

"You can get a front page on Sunday, but next Tuesday you have to have three fresh ideas and that's fine for a few months.

"But week after week after week there becomes a real pressure to build up a list of contacts from police officers to private investigators to basically anyone who can give you a story, and you lean on these figures to help you keep your job.

"I think Clive Goodman fell foul of phone hacking because he was getting on a bit.

"He was royal editor, he had a really high salary there and plenty of people who were 25-year-olds who would have taken his job and spent longer on doorsteps and worked harder, always snapping at his heels - in order to stay ahead of them he got himself into phone hacking."

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