DAVID Cameron could have gone riding on Rebekah Brooks's ex-police horse, Raisa, Downing Street has admitted for the first time.
The disclosure raises questions about the closeness between the Prime Minister and Mrs Brooks, the former tabloid editor who quit as chief executive of News International at the height of the phone hacking scandal last summer.
It emerged this week that Mrs Brooks was lent a retired police horse by the Metropolitan Police for two years. The horse, called Raisa, was stabled at her farm in the Cotswolds from 2008 to 2010, before it was handed back to Scotland Yard. It was put out to pasture in Norfolk and has since died.
An aide close to the Prime Minister confirmed for the first time that Mr Cameron had gone riding with Mrs Brooks' husband Charlie, a racehorse trainer and an old friend from his Eton schooldays.
The source said that it was "possible" that one of the horses could have been Raisa, because Mr Brooks had lent a number of horses to Mr Cameron over the years. The aide said: "It is possible. He used a number of Charlie's horses."
Mr Cameron had no recollection of ever going riding with Mrs Brooks, however. The aide added: "He never rode with Rebekah Brooks. He has no recollection of ever going riding with Rebekah Brooks."
Mr Cameron and Mrs Brooks were both part of the so-called Chipping Norton set of powerful public figures that met regularly at private gatherings until the phone-hacking scandal broke.
The Prime Minister, who was forced to disclose that he had attended intimate Christmas meals with Mrs Brooks, is long rumoured to have spent time horse-riding with Mrs Brooks, prompting speculation that he may have ridden Raisa.
One of the people claiming Mr Cameron went riding with Mrs Brooks was former News of the World journalist Paul McMullan, who was recorded in an undercover investigation by the New Statesman magazine. He said: “Cameron went horse riding regularly with Rebekah.
"I know, because as well as door-stepping celebrities, I've also door-stepped my ex-boss by hiding in the bushes, waiting for her to come past with Cameron on a horse . . . before the election to show that - you know - Murdoch was backing Cameron.”
Mrs Brooks took possession of the horse - one of only 12 loaned to members of the public that year - just a year after two people were jailed for phone hacking at the News of the World.
Since the phone hacking scandal deepened last summer, prompting the resignation of Mrs Brooks as chief executive of News International, Mr Cameron has been reluctant to shed light on his friendship with Mrs Brooks.
In January, Vanity Fair claimed Mr Cameron was so close to Ms Brooks that he signed his letters to her “love David”. Mr Cameron attended their wedding in 2009.
Mr Cameron is likely to be questioned about his friendship with Mrs Brooks by Lord Justice Leveson as part of his inquiry into press ethics.
The admission comes after Downing Street has refused for three days to say whether he had ridden the horse, or been allowed to ride any horse provided by Mrs Brooks.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Wednesday: “The only horses I am interested in are the type you can put a bet on. He has never been in an race in which I can back a horse.”
He said that all the meetings between Mrs Brooks and the Prime Minister were published last year: "Most of the Prime Minister’s meetings take place at rooms or at tables, and not on horseback.”
On Wednesday, Mrs Brooks’ former boss Rupert Murdoch leapt to her defence, writing on the Twitter micro-blogging website: “Now they are complaining about R Brooks saving an old horse from the glue factory.”