28 Apr 2012

Leveson: Jeremy Hunt can wait in line to testify

Until the Leveson inquiry into media tactics hears from the UK Culture Secretary on the BSkyB bid there’s no point in Conservatives running a parallel investigation, the Deputy Chair tells Channel 4.


Mr Hunt must wait until at least mid-May to defend himself against allegations that he acted as a “cheerleader” for Rupert Murdoch over the tycoon’s failed bid to take over BSkyB. Mr Hunt had asked the inquiry if he could make an early appearance, saying he wanted to hand over emails he claims will exonerate him from any wrongdoing.

“I will be handing over all my private texts and emails to my special adviser to the Leveson inquiry and I am confident that they will vindicate the position that I handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity,” Mr Hunt told reporters on Friday.

Downing Street said on Saturday that it didn’t want to pre-empt the inquiry.

“If it transpires from that, that there are serious charges to answer in terms of the ministerial code then that can be followed up but what we need to avoid, I think, is two separate parallel investigations,” Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon told Channel 4 News.

While Mr Hunt’s appearance date at the Leveson inquiry has not been confirmed, politicians will not be called to testify until mid-May. It is also possible the inquiry will not rule on whether Mr Hunt breached the ministerial code, but Mr Fallon told Channel 4 News the inquiry will examine whether proper process was follwed, cautioning “for the moment we’ve only heard one side of the story.”

‘Cheerleader for Murdoch’

“Lord Justice Leveson is of the view that, in the interests of fairness to all, the inquiry should continue with the existing scheduling of his appearance,” s apokesman for the inquiry said.

The decision is a setback for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has so far refused to launch an independent probe into whether the Culture Secretary acted improperly. It is also a setback for Mr Hunt, who insisted that he acted with “scrupulous fairness,” refuting claims he was a “cheerleader” for Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take full control of BSkyB.

Robert Jay QC, Counsel for the Leveson Inquiry, put it to Rupert Murdoch that Mr Hunt had acted as a “cheerleader” for the Murdoch empire as it attempted to take full control of BSkyB. Mr Murdoch said: “I did not know of that.”

Ministerial code

Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader, stepped up calls for the Prime Minister to call in his independent adviser on ministerial conduct, Sir Alex Allan.

“It was always the case that it was the responsibility of the Prime Minister and his alone to ensure that his ministers adhered to the Ministerial Code,” she said. “He should never have sought to pass that responsibility off to Lord Justice Leveson.”

Jonathan Stephens, the permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, was asked 10 times by a parliamentary committee whether he agreed with Hunt’s account of events at the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Stephens then refused to answer 10 times.

Senior Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes said he could understand why an investigation was not already under way. Downing Street maintains there are no plans to investigate Mr Hunt’s conduct or whether he broke the ministerial code. A Culture Department spokesman said Mr Stephens thought it would be inappropriate to comment

BSkyB bid.

Mr Hunt’s special advisear Adam Smith took responsibility for emails about the takeover sent to a News Corp lobbyist, and resigned on Wednesday, saying he acted without Mr Hunt’s knowledge.

But concerns remain over the relationship between Mr Hunt, who had a “quasi-judicial” responsibility in making his decision on the bid, and News Corp, before the company withdrew its offer following the row over phone hacking at News of the World.