11 May 2012

Hunt ‘asked for News Corp advice’ over phone-hacking

Leveson: a News Corp lobbyist’s email suggests that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked him for private advice about the government’s stance on phone-hacking.

The email from Frédéric Michel to former News International boss, Rebekah Brooks, said that Mr Hunt had given him an “extremely helpful” insight into his public statement on phone hacking.

The message was read aloud during Mrs Brooks’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry into press standards. She was editor of the News of the World when murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler‘s voicemails were allegedly hacked by the paper.

In a revelation that will add to pressure on Mr Hunt over his conduct during News Corp’s bid for BSkyB and his relationship with News Corp, the chief lobbyist’s email said that Mr Hunt wanted to avoid a public inquiry and had asked him to advise him privately “to guide his and No 10’s positioning”.

Mr Michel’s detailed email correspondence with Mr Hunt’s special adviser Adam Smith has already been made public and the apparently cosy relationship between the pair resulted in Mr Smith’s sacking.

“We now have the email and though some will say it is pretty rum it is not a killer strike. It’s yet another Fred Michel special claiming contact with JH (Jeremy Hunt) – ‘JH is now starting to look into phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10’s positioning.’
Lethal if you believe that JH is JH himself. But JH will, no doubt, say that this was his sacked former special adviser, Owen Smith, up to his usual rogue activities.”
Read more from Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

A ‘gossipy’ line of questioning?

Mrs Brooks at first appeared measured and controlled during her appearance at the Leveson inquiry, but she became more tetchy as the day went on. At one point she told Robert Jay QC the courtroom was “not a tabloid news room”, implying his questions over her relationship with her boss Rupert Murdoch were inappropriate and would not be asked if she was a “grumpy old man of Fleet Street”.

Mrs Brooks: “Today you have put to me quite a few gossipy items…”

Mr Jay (interrupting): “The same sort of stuff one read in the NotW and continues to read in the Sun.”

Mrs Brooks: “Well we’re not in a tabloid news room now, are we? This is an inquiry.”

Referring to the press coverage of her relationship with Rupert Murdoch, she added: “I think a lot of it’s gender based – if I was a grumpy old man of Fleet Street, no-one would write the first thing about it. I was not complaining. It would be the height of hypocracy to me to mean that.”

Read Rebekah Brooks’s full statement to Leveson

Mrs Brooks and the Conservatives

When discussing her relationship with government, Mrs Brooks said that she received “indirect messages” from No 10, No 11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, and from people who work for them, after resigning from News International in July 2011.

She was asked if the prime minister sent her a “keep your head up” message and confirmed she received something “along those lines”, adding that Mr Cameron said he regretted he could not be more loyal in public. The 43-year-old former editor denied sending Mr Cameron more than 12 text messages a day, adding that the idea she did so was “preposterous”.


During her testimony, Mrs Brooks admitted she had an “informal” lobbying role and that she had defended News Corp’s BSkyB bid.

Mrs Brooks discussed the topic over dinner with Chancellor George Osborne, and she appeared irritated by Robert Jay QC’s continued questioning over who brought up the topic of conversation.

“I’m being forced to guess,” she said. “I can’t remember who brought it up, but I’m happy for argument’s sake to say that I brought it up.”

The New Labour years

When asked about her relationship with the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who was also in touch after she resigned, Mrs Brooks said: “The point of New Labour embracing the media in a different way was that they felt they had a very big story to tell… about the changes they made to the Labour Party.”

But she added that the media’s relationship with politicians did not mean they could not be held to account.

Robert Jay QC asked Mrs Brooks about the Sun’s support for Labour after Gordon Brown took over as party leader. “We were running out of ways to support Mr Brown’s government” in March 2009, she said.

Although Mr Blair sent her messages of support after her resignation, she said that Gordon Brown did not, adding: “He was probably getting the bunting out.”

Get the latest on Leveson from the Channel 4 News live blog.

Mrs Brooks has twice been arrested by Scotland Yard detectives investigating allegations of phone hacking, corrupt payments to public officials, and an attempt to pervert the course of justice, and was not questioned about anything that could be prejudicial to future trials.

The inquiry has already heard that Mrs Brooks regularly met Mr Cameron and other top politicians along with Rupert and James Murdoch.She hosted a Christmas dinner on 23 December 2010, just two days after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his responsibility for media takeovers for saying he had “declared war” on the Murdoch empire.