The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

No. I have to put Sir Denis Hamilton's note in context. First of all, it did not take place on January 16. The lunch with Denis Hamilton and William Rees-Mogg took place on January 20. I have a record of this. What took place on January 16 was a meeting with Sir Denis and senior journalists at the Times who came back to me absolutely boiling mad. They said, "We told Denis we want the management buyout to go ahead and he was very much against it."

We have to understand something about Sir Denis Hamilton. First of all, I regard him as one of the great pillars of British journalism, a man of utter integrity. The youngest Brigadier in the British Army at the age of 28. The man who brought me from Darlington to the Sunday Times, who recommended my appointment to Roy Thomson and was a total and wonderful supporter all those years. Really good supporter, chastising me from time to time, encouraging me from time to time. That was marvellous.

In all those years, that's 16, 17 years, he was vehement in his condemnation of Mr Rupert Murdoch. He thought he was lowering the standards of British press, he was disgusted by him and he made it clear, and something very sad happened to Denis, which is that he and the Thomson organisation in London very much wanted Rupert Murdoch to have these papers. Why? Because they thought he would deal with the unions effectively. Were they crazy? No, they were right. Rupert Murdoch was the man to deal with the unions, as we saw with the Wapping incident.

However, both William Rees-Mogg and I were surprised that Denis changed tack about Mr Murdoch. I remember standing outside the Times building with him and he said, "You know, he thinks very highly of you, Harold", and I said, "I don't care, I don't think he's a good proprietor", and Denis revealed to me that Rupert had offered him the chairmanship of the new Times newspaper. So the January 20 meeting was where Denis Hamilton got William Rees-Mogg and me together, I have a note of it here, and he said, "Look, we're going to sell the paper to Rupert Murdoch unless you prefer one of the following: Daily Mail, News International or Lonrho."

Okay, so we take Lonrho, Rowlands -- actually, at his suggestion I'd taken a poll of the journalists' chapel at the Sunday Times, giving them these choices. I called them the choices between the seven dwarfs because there were about seven bidders, but the ones we got the vote on was 37 preferred Mr Murdoch, in the chapel, 32 Rowlands, and 11 for Lonrho. So Rupert Murdoch came ahead in the journalists' chapel.

However, what your note didn't say and what both William and I emphasised to Denis Hamilton: rather than Mr Murdoch, I would like my Sunday Times management buyout group to succeed and William Rees-Mogg would like his journalists of the Times group to succeed. So the idea that we had suddenly decided 100 per cent for Rupert Murdoch is not true.

Bear this in mind: on 26 January, I continued efforts to get the Sunday Times consortium linked to the Times, so we could buy the whole company. I had many conversations about this, and Donald Cruickshank, the financial director for Times Newspapers, was most insistent that this was the way to go, and all of us made a fatal miscalculation. We assumed that the bid would not go through because of the law of the Monopolies Commission, because we knew full well that the Sunday Times was a highly profitable newspaper and therefore could not be exempt from Monopolies Commission scrutiny on the grounds that it was losing money.

So that's the background to this. And by the way, Mr Jay, if I may just continue for a moment, one of the sadnesses in my life, I'll never forget the moment. Denis Hamilton, yes, was appointed chairman of Times Newspapers as Murdoch had promised him. A few months later, he was sacked. This great distinguished man was denied a lunch tray at his desk, he was humiliated. He called me to his office and gave me bound volumes of the history of the Times, in tears. I said, "I'll put them in the office". He said, "No, get them out of this place."

So it's a very sad sequence of events, that Sir Denis, who was the creative genius, really, behind the Sunday Times -- I was just a lucky inheritor -- a man of great sensitivity, somewhat sensitive in his own personal attitudes, frightened of being confronted, I think two things happened to him. One, I think he liked the idea of the continuity of the Times with him as chairman, and secondly, it became clear to him he'd been heartbroken by the print unions destroying the paper he had largely created. I mean, I get a lot of the credit for that, but much of it was him.

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