A political row over links between David Cameron and News International deepens as the prime minister admits he did ride a former police horse which was on loan to Rebekah Brooks.
On Thursday the prime minister’s aides refused to confirm that he had ridden the retired police horse, called Raisa, which was on loan to Mrs Brooks from the Metropolitan Police. But now David Cameron has admitted that when he was in opposition he had ridden the animal.
The story has caught on because it is seen as yet more evidence of the close links between politicians, the media and the police.
It has emerged that some retired police horses are meant for companionship only and are not to ride. The Metropolitan Police refused to comment on whether Rebekah Brooks‘ horse came into the latter category or not.
But the Met’s website says: “At the end of the Police Horse’s working life the animal is re-homed at one of many identified establishments who have previously contacted the Mounted Branch with a view to offering a home.
“The Mounted Branch is looking for suitable homes for retired horses, that is homes where the horse will not be ridden. Anyone in the south east of England offering such a home will be considered first.”
Asked whether the case was emblematic of the overly close ties between political and media elites, Mr Cameron said: “I have known Charlie Brooks, the husband of Rebekah Brooks, for over 30 years.” The two men were at Eton together.
Mr Cameron went on: “He is a good friend and he is a neighbour in the constituency. We live a few miles apart.”
“I have not been riding with him since the election. Before the election, yes, I did go riding with him. He has a number of horses and, yes, one of them was this former police horse Raisa which I did ride.
“I am very sorry to hear that Raisa is no longer with us and I think I should probably conclude by saying I don’t think I will be getting back into the saddle any time soon.”
Before Mr Cameron announced that he had ridden Raisa, another resident of the Chipping Norton area where the prime minister and Ms Brooks live, weighed into the debate. The Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson told BBC Radio 2: “I can categorically state that he never rode that horse. I do actually live there. It’s all rubbish.”
Details of the two-year loan of the 22-year old horse were given in February to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics which is currently scrutinising relations with the police. The leaking of this evidence caused Lord Leveson to warn on Thursday that he would restrict the advance release of witness statements to core participants if such leaks continued:
“I am disturbed about it, not only because leaks would constitute a breach of the confidentiality agreement that everybody has signed, but also because it runs the risk of disrupting the way in which this inquiry can proceed”.
The horse in question was “fostered” by Mrs Brooks, who resigned in 2011 as chief executive of News International amid the continuing scandal over phone-hacking allegations, after it retired from active service in 2008.
She and her racehorse trainer husband paid food and vet bills until Raisa was rehoused with a police officer in 2010 – months before fresh investigations into illegal activities at the News of the World.
The force said the horse was returned in a “poor” condition and later died of natural causes.