UK

Leveson: Hunt appointment 'not botched decision'

  • 14 June 2012
  • From the section UK

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's appointment to handle News Corporation's bid to buy BSkyB "was not some rushed, botched, political decision", PM David Cameron has said.

He told the Leveson Inquiry: "If anyone had told me Jeremy Hunt couldn't do the job I wouldn't have given him the job".

He denied that legal advice given on Mr Hunt's appointment was rushed.

He also said he wanted press regulation that had "real teeth" to penalise those who broke the rules.

The idea of moving the responsibility of the BSkyB bid from Business Secretary Vince Cable to Mr Hunt was suggested by Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, Mr Cameron said, following a series of meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Downing Street staff.

Mr Cable was initially tasked with handling News Corp's bid, launched in June 2010.

But he was replaced in his role by Mr Hunt in December that year after he was secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch.

Telephoned advice

The prime minister also told the inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press that he did not recall Mr Hunt's memo on BSkyB, where the latter had voiced support for the bid, when he handed him control of investigating the bid.

And Mr Cameron denied that legal advice given by Treasury solicitor Paul Jenkins on Mr Hunt's appointment was made too quickly.

Mr Jenkins gave his advice over the phone as he was on holiday when Mr Hunt was given authority for the BSkyB bid.

He said he "definitely asked the cabinet secretary's view and my memory is that he sought legal advice".

The Conservatives have been accused by Labour of having a biased view in favour of the bid by News Corporation.

Dowler meeting

Mr Cameron went on to say that some of the evidence heard at the inquiry so far has been "really heartbreaking" and "incredibly shocking".

He said he would never forget meeting the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in Downing Street to run through the terms of the Leveson Inquiry.

In July 2011 it came to light that the now-closed News of the World newspaper had accessed the voicemail of Milly.

The prime minister said he wanted an independent system of press regulation that had "real teeth" and could dish out significant penalties to those who flouted the rules.

He said focusing on the regulatory system was better than focusing on privacy laws or other legal remedies "that can tend to favour the powerful rather than people who just get caught up in this storm and it completely changes their lives".

'Controversial appointment'

The prime minister also told the inquiry he accepted hiring ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson was "a controversial appointment", but he had been given "assurances" by him that had no knowledge of phone hacking at the paper.

Mr Coulson became Mr Cameron's communications chief after resigning from the paper.

The BBC's Nick Robinson said the prime minister's personal and political judgement were on trial, but there was "no smoking gun".

There was "no single fact that should cause him any trouble", he added.

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