Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is not "a fit person" to run a major international corporation, a committee of MPs said today.
In a devastating report into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee accused the News Corp chief of exhibiting "wilful blindness" towards the wrongdoing in his organisation.
It said News Corp had been guilty of "huge failings of corporate governance" and that throughout its instinct had been "to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators".
The report accused three former senior executives of News Corp's UK newspaper publishing arm News International - Les Hinton, Colin Myler, and Tom Crone - of misleading the committee during its inquiries into the scandal.
It said that Rupert Murdoch's son James had demonstrated "wilful ignorance" about what had been going on, which "clearly raises questions of competence" on his part.
The most damning judgment was reserved for Rupert Murdoch.
"On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications," the report said.
"This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International.
"We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company."
The committee was split on party lines over a number of key findings - including the verdict on Rupert Murdoch - with the Conservatives voting against and Labour and the Liberal Democrats in favour.
The committee found that Mr Hinton, the former News International chairman, had misled it when he gave evidence in 2009 about payments made to former royal correspondent Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for phone hacking.
It said that Mr Myler, former News of the World editor, and Mr Crone, the paper's former legal manager, misled it over their knowledge that other staff were involved in phone hacking.
It said it could now ask the House of Commons to decide whether there had been a contempt of Parliament and what the punishment should be.
"The integrity and effectiveness of the select committee system relies on the truthfulness and completeness of the oral and written evidence submitted," it said.
"The behaviour of News International and certain witnesses in this affair demonstrated contempt for that system in the most blatant fashion."
The committee said it was "simply astonishing" that News International - including the Murdochs - had sought to maintain that phone hacking was down to one "rogue reporter".
The company continued to stick with the line even after James Murdoch authorised a £700,000 (€859,951) payout to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.
"Had James Murdoch been more attentive to the correspondence that he received at the time, he could have taken action on phone hacking in 2008 and this committee could have been told the truth in 2009," the report said.
It said that it was only at the end of 2010 that the company accepted that its "containment approach" had failed and that it no longer had "any shred of credibility".
"Since then, News Corporation's strategy has been to lay the blame on certain individuals, particularly Colin Myler, Tom Crone and Jonathan Chapman, and lawyers, whilst striving to protect more senior figures, most notably James Murdoch," the report said.
"Even if there was a 'don't ask, don't tell' culture at News International, the whole affair demonstrates huge failings of corporate governance at the company and its parent, News Corp."