UK Politics

Brooks - Now it's getting serious

So, the prime minister signed off his texts to Rebekah Brooks when she was Chief Executive of News International "LOL" - and thought it meant lots of love until she told him that it meant "laugh out loud". So what?

Something emerged today at the Leveson Inquiry which is much more significant than confirmation that David Cameron was chummy with a woman who was friends with every recent Prime Minister and who is the wife of an old school friend and lives near him in Oxfordshire.

A previously unseen email from News Corp (see below) suggests that the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt sought private guidance from News Corp when phone hacking allegations emerged in order to "guide his and Number 10's positioning". The email was sent by the News Corp PR man Fred Michel and quoted "JH". Of course we already know that Michel often referred to JH even when he had, in fact, only spoken to Hunt's adviser (who himself has since resigned, saying that he had acted without his boss's authority).

Nevertheless, Hunt who was already facing difficult questions about his contacts with News Corp, now faces more. At an inquiry which has repeatedly made clear that it will not determine his ministerial future.

Brooks also revealed that she had discussed the BSkyB bid with George Osborne at a dinner also attended by her husband and Will Lewis of News Corp and his wife. The next day Brooks emailed James Murdoch to say that Osborne had expressed "total bafflement" at the views of the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, which had just declared that there were plurality issues to consider before News Corp's bid for 100% of BSkyB could go ahead.

Update

A spokeswoman for Jeremy Hunt has said that it is "completely inaccurate" to say that he asked News Corp to give him private advice on phone-hacking.

She said: "This is just another Fred Michel email and he himself admits he wasn't speaking to Jeremy Hunt he was speaking to Adam Smith (Hunt's then special adviser). It's widely acknowledged that he has exaggerated."

Hunt is pointing to Fred Michel's evidence to the inquiry that "references to 'Hunt', 'JH', 'he', 'Jeremy' in ...emails are in fact summaries of what he was told by Adam Smith".

Email sent by Fred Michel to Rebekah Brooks. 27 June 2011 16.29:

Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon this week.

He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in Parliament few weeks ago.

This is based on his belief that the police is pursing things thoroughly and phone hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issues.

It's extremely helpful.

On the issue of the privacy committee he supports a widening of its remit to the future of the press and evidence from all newspaper groups on the regulatory regime.

He wants to prevent a public inquiry. For this the committee will need to come up a strong report in the autumn and put enough pressure on the PCC to strength itself and take recommendations forward.

JH is now starting to looking to 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…