Thursday 5 December 2019

Leveson: Jeremy Hunt sent 'sympathetic' text messages to James Murdoch despite legal advice

JEREMY Hunt sent a "sympathetic" text message to James Murdoch in favour of News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB, despite legal advice not to have "any external discussions" about the deal.

The Culture Secretary sent the message on the day he was handed responsibility for deciding whether News Corporation's £8 billion bid should go ahead.

The evidence emerged at the Leveson Inquiry, as Mr Hunt defended himself against accusations he showed too much favour towards News Corporation.

His political adviser, Adam Smith, has already resigned after exchanging hundreds of emails and text messages with Fred Michel, a News Corporation lobbyist, while the bid was being considered.

The inquiry heard that Mr Hunt showed a “positive view” towards the bid to Mr Murdoch, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, before he took charge of the decision on December 21.

He had spoken out publicly in favour of the deal and given a “sympathetic hearing” to Mr Murdoch without his officials present on a phone call in November - despite legal advice not to have “any external discussions” about the bid.

On December 21, Mr Hunt sent a text message to Mr Murdoch, the boss of News Corporation, saying “Great and congrats on Brussels, just Ofcom to go!”.

This refers to the bid’s successful clearance from the European Union, and the next hurdle of getting approval from the media regulator

Later that day, it emerged that Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who was judging the bid, had told undercover reporters he was declaring “war on Murdoch”.

Mr Hunt took a call from Mr Murdoch at 4pm, who expressed his anger that the Business Secretary was showing “acute bias” against the deal.

Within 10 minutes, Mr Hunt let both the Prime Minister’s office and the Chancellor know that News Corporation was unhappy with the situation.

He emailed Andy Coulson, who was then director of communications at Number 10, to say: “Could we chat about this am seriously worried Vince will do real damage to coalition with his comments…”

He also texted George Osborne, the Chancellor, to say there was a danger the Coalitions was “screwing up” the bid.

By 5pm, the Prime Minister had decided that responsibility for the bid would be transferred to Mr Hunt.

Mr Osborne texted the Culture Secretary back to say: “I hope you like the solution!”

The “solution” referred to the transfer of responsibility for the bid from Mr Cable to Mr Hunt.

The Culture Secretary said he acted with impartiality towards the News Corporation deal after December 21.

Mr Hunt said he had not given any “express instructions” to Mr Smith about talking to News Corporation, but that he was expected to be a “point of contact”.

It also emerged during the inquiry that Mr Hunt only sends emails from a private Gmail account, rather than an official Government one.

The Telegraph

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News