Thursday 19 April 2018

Video: Cameron U-turn as he admits Murdoch bid talks

PM now says he 'may' have spoken of £8bn deal with executives

Andrew Grice and Oliver Wright in London

DAVID Cameron admitted that he may have discussed the bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for full control of BSkyB during his 27 meetings with Murdoch executives since last year's election. Downing Street had previously insisted that the £8bn (€9.1bn) takeover was not mentioned.

Mr Cameron also came under pressure to explain why he failed to review Mr Coulson's position as No 10's director of communications last September when the 'New York Times' alleged that he had "actively encouraged" hacking while 'News of the World' editor, which Mr Coulson denies.

The same report led to Scotland Yard ending the PR role of Neil Wallis, Mr Coulson's friend and deputy at the 'NOTW'. Both Mr Coulson and Mr Wallis have recently been arrested by police investigating hacking.

Last night Cameron aides offered the surprise disclosure that Mr Wallis had "probably" visited Mr Coulson in Downing Street since the election.

Senior Palace officials also believed that Mr Cameron's office was "aware" of their misgivings about hiring Mr Coulson in the first place, following the jailing of two of his employees for hacking royal aides' phones.

During a Commons' statement, Mr Cameron was asked on nine occasions whether he had discussed the now aborted News Corp bid for BSkyB. He replied that he had not had any inappropriate conversation about the takeover. Later aides suggested Mr Cameron may have been lobbied but would have merely told them the decision was a matter for Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary.

Last night Mr Hunt appeared to confirm that the issue did arise during Mr Cameron's meetings. He told MPs the discussions were "irrelevant because the person making this decision was myself".

Labour described Mr Cameron as "slippery" and urged him to publish full details of any talks with Murdoch executives about the bid. "Until he does so there will continue to be serious questions about his judgment,"said Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary.

Mr Cameron told the Commons he was "extremely sorry" for the furore. He said Mr Coulson should face "severe" criminal charges if it turned out that assurances he gave that he knew nothing about phone hacking were lies. He insisted that Mr Coulson should be seen as "innocent until proven guilty".

Mr Cameron dismissed Labour's attacks as "conspiracy theories" and "political point scoring". Despite fears among Tory MPs about his links to Mr Coulson, they rallied strongly behind him in the Commons.

Ed Miliband seized on Downing Street's plea to Scotland Yard not to brief Mr Cameron on hacking last September after the 'New York Times' article appeared. He said: "The prime minister was caught in a tragic conflict of loyalty between the standards of integrity that people should expect of him and his staff and his personal allegiance to Mr Coulson. He made the wrong choice."

Resignation

The Labour leader suggested Mr Cameron's "conflict of interest" led to Paul Stephenson's resignation as the Metropolitan police commissioner after it emerged that the force had hired Mr Wallis as an adviser.

He said: "Stephenson was trapped between a home secretary angry about not being told about the hiring of Mr Wallis and Paul's belief that doing so would have compromised the Prime Minister."

Mr Cameron agreed to examine allegations that an unnamed senior government official was subjected to "disgraceful and illegal" phone hacking and hostile media briefing while Mr Coulson worked in Downing Street.

Irish Independent

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