UK ministers met Murdoch executives on 60 occasions
NEW pressure was heaped upon David Cameron's government over the hacking scandal last night with the access granted by cabinet ministers to Rupert Murdoch and his children.
The full extent of the contacts can be revealed for the first time, with over two dozen private meetings between the family and senior members of the government in the 15 months since Mr Cameron entered Downing Street.
In total, cabinet ministers have met with Murdoch executives more than 60 times.
On three occasions James Murdoch was given confidential defence briefings on Afghanistan and Britain's strategic defence review by Defence Secretary Liam Fox, including on one occasion with his father.
Chancellor George Osborne has had 16 separate meetings since May 2010 with News International editors and executives, including two with the Murdochs within just a month of taking office.
He also invited Elisabeth Murdoch as a guest to his 40th birthday party last month.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt dined with Rupert Murdoch within days of the government coming to power, and, after being given quasi-judicial oversight for the Murdochs' £8bn (€9bn) attempted takeover of BSkyB, had two meetings with James Murdoch in which they discussed the takeover.
Mr Hunt said last night that these were legitimate as part of the bid process. The minister who sees Rupert Murdoch most frequently turns out to be Education Secretary Michael Gove, a former News International employee.
Mr Gove has seen the mogul for breakfast, lunch or dinner on six separate occasions since last May. Overall, Mr Gove has had 12 meetings with Murdoch executives since becoming a minister.
The list, released by government departments yesterday evening, reinforces the impression of an unhealthily close relationship between the top echelons of News International and senior members of the coalition cabinet, which first became apparent when Mr Cameron released his list of contacts with news organisations a week ago.
He revealed then he had met News International executives on 26 occasions since entering No 10.
Overall, senior executives and editors from News International have held private meetings with cabinet ministers more than 60 times since last May.
Ivan Lewis, Labour's shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said: "The publication of these lists raises new questions about the discussions David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove had about the BskyB deal, Andy Coulson and phone-hacking allegations. We now need urgent clarification about whether David Cameron or his ministers sought to influence the BSkyB decision at any stage in the decision-making process." (© Independent News Service)