Lachlan Murdoch, left, and his father Rupert
Rupert Murdoch, right, with his son Lachlan. The tycoon told journalists his eldest son could be trusted to look after their interests.

Rupert Murdoch was secretly recorded telling journalists at his Wapping headquarters that his eldest son Lachlan will succeed him as head of his newspaper business when he dies.

In what may be his strongest hint yet as to his chosen successor, the tycoon inadvertently let slip what some analysts believe is his true thinking on the matter at a staff crisis meeting in March.

The meeting was called amid the ongoing arrests of his employees at the Sun newspaper, part of Scotland Yard's investigation into corrupt payments to police and public officials.

At the 45-minute meeting the press tycoon asked journalists to trust him, adding that in the event he was "no longer around", his son Lachlan, or ­chief executive Robert Thomson would look after them.

Murdoch's remarks were secretly taped and later published by the ExaroNews website. The tycoon told staff: "If I wasn't here, the decision would be - well, it will either be with my son, ­Lachlan, or with Robert Thomson. And you don't have any worries about either of them."

Murdoch was then asked by former Sun managing editor, Graham Dudman: "Lachlan or Robert, then?"

He replies: "People are going to express opinions, but it's the leadership of the company who would take the ­decision."

Lachlan, the eldest of Murdoch's four adult children, resigned from his post at News Corporation in July 2005, though he continues to sit on the board.

'Mitigating evidence'

During his speech Murdoch talked openly about police corruption, and the fall-out from the phone hacking scandal.

Asked by one unnamed journalist whether the issue of corrupt payments "pre-dates many of our involvement here?" Murdoch responds: "We're talking about payments for news tips from cops: that's been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn't instigate it.

Murdoch continued: "I would have thought... at least 90% of payments were made at the instigation of cops saying, 'I've got a good story here. It's worth 500 quid' or something. And you would say, 'No, it's not'. And they'd say, 'Well, we'll ring the Mirror.' It was the culture of Fleet Street."

The remarks could provide crucial mitigating evidence for journalists defending the charges in court.

Murodoch said of the hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World: "We got caught with dirty hands, I guess."

Criticising the police investigation into his company, he added: "The cops are totally incompetent. It's just disgraceful what they're doing. It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next-to-nothing."

The combative remarks came in sharp contrast to those Murdoch made at his appearance before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee two years ago, when he pledged all possible support for the police, calling it the "humblest day of my life".

Former Sun editor Roy Greenslade said of the tapes: "The media mogul emerges as the man I recall well from the years I worked with him - dismissive of authority, railing against a variety of 'establishment' enemies and defensive of the paper's news-gathering methods. It is a glimpse of the authentic Rupert.

"The only thing missing from the transcript is the number of times he slapped the table, one of his tics when he is angry."

Murdoch's biographer Michael Wolff said on Twitter: "Murdoch tapes--re succession: This is the rambling, muttering, dismissive, insular, us-against-them Murdoch I know.

"Most of Murdoch's non-public utterances occur off the reservation. He can't filter."

However, Wolff noted: "In March, when the tapes were made, he was still trying to convince Lachlan to run the new News Corp."

Murdoch last week hived off his profit-making entertainment business, 21st Century Fox, from his loss-making publishing business amid the continuing fallout among his newspapers in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.