IT’S the car crash moment Les Hinton might have preferred to swerve.
Rupert Murdoch’s most trusted lieutenant – formerly the executive chairman of News International and publisher of the Wall Street Journal – was making a live appearance in London to promote his new book.
The plan was for a gentle question and answer session with fans wanting to discuss his 50-year career working for the world’s most powerful media baron.
The Bootle Boy – as he describes himself – was looking relaxed and debonair in a cream linen suit and black shirt, as if ready for a night at the theatre, while Sky News presenter Kay Burley invited questions from around the room.
And then they started rolling in.
First there was a query about his company’s use of illegal news-gathering to build kompromat on politicians and the influence that may have given over Government policy.
Then Hinton was quizzed on claims his former favourite UK editor Andy Coulson made at the Old Bailey about his boss knowing about phone hacking years earlier than he later admitted.
And then the former London’s Burning actor John Alford – whose life was destroyed by the News of the World in 1997 – started asking about Mazher Mahmood, the ‘Fake Sheikh’ investigator who worked for nearly all of Hinton’s newspapers, and his conviction in disgrace for perverting the course of justice.
Byline writer James Cusick – author of our Big Read on Hinton’s time as Murdoch’s ‘teflon executive‘ – then made comparisons with former US President Harry Truman.
“He had a sign on his desk saying ‘the buck stops here’,” said Cusick. “It appears to be that your desk didn’t have that sign.”
Hinton, gamely protected by Kay Burley, maintained his defence of ignorance to any wrongdoing on his watch as company chief.
And then Burley invited a man at the back with a rolling south Wales accent to speak.
“Basically, I’m wondering, if you’re a blagger,” asked the Welshman. “Have you blagged your way to where you’ve got?”
“Er, no,” replied Hinton, wryly. “I’m a flatterer.”
“Flattery seems to have got you very, very, far,” came the reply.
And then there was a sharp intake of breath in the room as the voice changed, suddenly adopting the Received Pronunciation of quintessential English.
“My name is John Ford,” said the man. “I was the lead blagger at The Sunday Times, and I broke the law continuously, for 15 years, for The Sunday Times.”
Byline Investigations captured Hinton’s astonished reaction in the video above…