By a Newsnet reporter
UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is today facing calls to resign after the Leveson inquiry heard evidence that he had sought advice from News Corp Executives over the phone hacking scandal.
An email, released to the inquiry by former News Internationa Executive Rebekah Brooks, also revealed that News Corp had received an “extremely helpful” tip off regarding a statement the Tory Minister was due to give to the House of Commons.
The email from News Corporation lobbyist Frédéric Michel was sent at 4.29pm on June 27 last year, and said: “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.”
If true, the email will cause attention to be turned to Prime Minister David Cameron and suspicion that his Government’s response to the phone hacking scandal was being influenced by News Corp.
The inquiry also heard how Brooks discussed phone hacking with David Cameron in 2010 after the PM had sought an update, “I think it had been on the news that day, and I think I explained the story behind the news. No secret information, no privileged information, just a general update,” Brooks said.
However, far more serious for Mr Hunt is Brooks’ claim to have been told of a planned statement to Parliament days before the Minister actually gave it. The email to Ms Brooks informed the former News International executive that the Minister would make a statement about the company’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB, and that phone hacking was not expected to be seen as a barrier.
In the same email to Mrs Brooks, Mr Michel states: “Hunt will be making references to phone-hacking in his statement on Rubicon [News Corp’s codename for the BSkyB bid] this week.
“He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in Parliament a few weeks ago.
“This is based on his belief that the police is (sic) pursuing things thoroughly and phone-hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issue.
“It’s extremely helpful.”
Brooks is then told that the statement will be made that Wednesday.
The claim regarding the so called “extremely helpful” tip off appeared to have been borne out when in Hunt’s statement to parliament on Wednesday 30 June, essentially approving News Corp’s bid for Sky, he told MPs that “while the phone-hacking allegations are very serious they were not material to my consideration”.
In a statement yesterday a culture department spokesperson said: “Jeremy Hunt will respond to this when he gives his evidence to the Leveson inquiry in due course. He is confident his evidence will vindicate the position that he has behaved with integrity on every issue.”
In her evidence Brooks also spoke of dining with Chancellor George Osborne and discussing the News Corp bid. There is speculation that Osborne may now be called to give evidence to the inquiry.
Ms Brooks also revealed that she had dinner with David Cameron on 23rd December 2010 where they discussed the BskyB bid. She also attended another previously undisclosed dinner party days later on Boxing Day with the PM and his wife. That year she met with the Tory PM on at least five occasions.
Other Prime Ministers who featured in Ms Brooks evidence included former PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Ms Brooks admitted that Mr Blair had been a “constant presence” in the former News International executive’s life, growing throughout his period as Prime Minister and that they had met three times between 2003 and 2007 for private dinners.
She also reveled that the former Labour PM had sent her a message of condolence when she was forced to resign from News International last year.
Ms Brooks also spoke of an “extraordinarily aggressive conversation” she had with Gordon Brown after the Sun newspaper withdrew its support for Labour in 2009. She claimed that the former Labour PM expressed concern that the newspaper was planning further attacks on him, “I assured him that it wasn’t,” she said.
Ms Brooks also challenged claims by Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah that they had not given permission for the Sun newspaper to cover the story revealing their son had cystic fibrosis, insisting she would not have run the story without their consent.
“There are many examples [of] very tragic situations in people’s lives where people have asked me not to run the story and I haven’t, and I wouldn’t have done – they gave me permission to run it. It is the only way we would have put that in the public domain,” said Brooks.
Mrs Brooks said that after the story in 2006, she saw Gordon Brown and his wife regularly and had good relations with them. They threw a birthday party for her, and attended her wedding, she told the inquiry. She described herself as a friend of Mrs Brown, whom she called an “amazing lady”.
It was only following The Sun’s change of allegiance that Gordon Brown suggested he was unhappy about the cystic fibrosis story, she said. “The first time I’d heard that he had a concern of that nature was when he gave an interview to the BBC in 2011,” she said and claimed Mr Brown had sought to damage the Sun’s reputation for political reasons.