24 May 2012

Scapegoated or misunderstood? Hunt spad speaks

At the heart of Adam Smith’s evidence is that his cosy, perpetual and supportive contact with News International was due to a misunderstanding. People may have briefed Jeremy Hunt about what he was meant to do when quasi-judicial responsibility for the BSkyB takeover came his way, but nobody told Mr Smith. He carried on thinking only his boss was in the quasi-judicial role but he, the spad (special adviser), was free to act as normal. So he did. 

Mr Smith admitted that his old boss was pro the BSkyB bid. A memorandum to David Cameron  from Mr Hunt was read out. Written on 19 November, 2010, (a few short weeks before authority for the BSkyB bid was taken from Vince Cable and given to Jeremy Hunt by the Prime Minister)  it showed Mr Hunt in full-throated pro-bid form. In it, he wrote: “James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince’s referral to Ofcom…if we block it our media sector will suffer for years….I think it is totally wrong to cave in to the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control…” 
 
The prime minister can have been in no doubt that Mr Hunt was an enthusiastic supporter of the BSkyB bid – Mr Hunt’s argument, when he takes the stand, will presumably be that he may well have had an opinion (he was a politician) but he stuck to the quasi-judicial process
 
Watching the earlier questioning of NI lobbyist, Fred Michel, at Leveson, Robert Jay seems to have decided to challenge witnesses he doesn’t believe to their faces. He took some stick for seeming to question Rupert Murdoch’s evidence a few days after the newspaper propreitor had given his evidence in court.

So far, he’s said he feels Mr Michel is “not assisting” the inquiry and that he was “not satisfied” with one answer. This is QC Mr Jay’s equivalent of a lunge with broken glass across the bar.

The overall impact is that Mr Michel’s own standing has been chipped away at, but he hasn’t particularly chipped away at Mr Hunt’s credibility. Whenever he is asked whether he was picking up vibes that Mr Hunt and the relevant department of culture, media and sport team were pretty “pro” the BSkyB bid, Mr Michel wandered off down a different conversational alley, or concedes only that Mr Hunt was showing support for a narrow part of the News Corp case. 
 
Robert Jay suggested, at one point, that the route for Mr Cameron’s indirect sympathy message to Rebekah Brooks when she resigned from NI was the PM’s press aide, Gabby Bertin. Not sure he’s right about that.

That came as Mr Jay waded through some texts which the inquiry has had access to from Mr Michel’s phone. At one point,  Lord Justice Leveson  appeared to pull Mr Jay back from reading out one that might’ve titillated the rest of us but wasn’t what Lord Justice Leveson wanted to hear.

He also signalled that he wanted the serious stuff prioritised as his website folk had to put a lot of material up on screen every day.

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