News Corp 'warned Lib Dems over BSkyB bid'

Media caption,
Norman Lamb: "V.C. refers the case to Ofcom - they turn nasty"

News Corporation implied the Sun newspaper's coverage of the Lib Dems "may turn nasty" if Vince Cable did not rule in its favour on the BSkyB bid, a minister has told the Leveson Inquiry.

Norman Lamb, Lib Dem junior business minister, said in a meeting with News Corp's Fred Michel in 2010, Mr Michel had referred to the coverage, saying it would be a "pity" if things changed.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was later "horrified" by this, he said.

News Corp denies there was a threat.

Mr Lamb, a former special adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, read to the inquiry from contemporaneous notes.

'It was brazen'

He said: "Fred Michel, News International, an extraordinary encounter. FM is very charming, he tells me News Int papers will land on VC's desk in next two weeks.

"They are certain there are no grounds for referral but they realised - they realise - the political pressures.

"He wants things to run smoothly. They have been supportive of the coalition but if it goes the wrong way he is worried about the implications. It was brazen. VC refers case to Ofcom - they turn nasty."

Mr Lamb told the inquiry he had not responded to Mr Michel at the second meeting - on 27 October 2010 - but had taken his concerns to Mr Cable and Mr Clegg.

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins tweeted that Mr Lamb said Mr Clegg was "horrified by his account of this meeting, which wasn't what Clegg said in evidence".

Asked by the inquiry counsel, Robert Jay QC, why he had taken so long coming forward with his evidence, Mr Lamb said he had been thinking over it for some time.

A handwritten note of the second meeting was found when "he texted his wife this morning to look through pile of notes, and she produced it".

"When Vince Cable gave his evidence I felt I had to tell the story of what happened. In a sense, you were left with a gap," he said.

Chelsea shirt

Also giving evidence was former Conservative minister David Mellor.

He told the inquiry it was "absolutely crucial that whatever comes out of this inquiry is clear-cut so politicians can't slither into the undergrowth".

Mr Mellor was asked about the 1992 press coverage of his affair with actress Antonia de Sancha, where he reportedly wore a Chelsea shirt while having sex.

The former heritage secretary told Lord Justice Leveson the Chelsea shirt was a "total invention" and said it was "cooked up" by Max Clifford and then deputy editor of the Sun, Stuart Higgins.

"That Chelsea shirt. I'm sick and fed up of it. All you'll remember about me when I go to my grave is some bloody Chelsea shirt."

The revelations about his private life came after he announced there should be a second Calcutt report into the press.

"It was an inconvenient moment for one's private life to fall out of the cupboard," Mr Mellor said.

He also told the inquiry the then prime minister John Major had feared that the resignation of ministers "found with unfortunate girlfriends" would set an undesirable precedent.

Mr Mellor suggested that he was prepared to resign in July 1992 when the tabloid newspaper revelations emerged.

He said he thought that he "understood better now" why Mr Major was against the idea.

In 2002, former Conservative health minister Edwina Currie revealed that she had an affair with Mr Major between 1984 and 1988 - and Mr Major described the relationship as the "event in my life of which I am most ashamed".

On the question of the Murdoch media empire, Mr Mellor said: "Sky is tremendous thing. I don't think anyone would say Sky poses a great threat to individual freedom in this country, but some of Murdoch newspapers have."

He said the problem had been that Rupert Murdoch never really bought into the society in which his newspapers have so much influence.

"I don't think Thatcher saw Murdoch as any kind of threat, I think she saw him as a kindred spirit," he said.

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