Tuesday 12 December 2017

Video: Hacking scandal cover-up reaches Downing Street

Former News International chief Rebekah Brooks leaving the High Court in London after giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry
Former News International chief Rebekah Brooks leaving the High Court in London after giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

Oliver Wright, James Cusick and Martin Hickman in London

BRITISH Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt last night stood accused of conspiring with News International to prevent a public inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal.

The revelations at the Leveson Inquiry for the first time implicate Downing Street in a potential cover-up and heap further pressure on Mr Hunt as he prepares to give evidence to the inquiry later this month.

A damming email released to the inquiry yesterday suggested Mr Hunt asked the company to "privately advise" and "guide his and No 10's thinking" on the unfolding scandal. The existence of the previously secret email emerged during more than five hours of questioning of News International's former chief executive Rebekah Brooks at the Leveson Inquiry.

She also revealed that:

• She had privately discussed the £8bn (€9.9bn) takeover deal of BSkyB with the UK chancellor George Osborne over dinner. Before the dinner, Ofcom, Britain's media regulator, had raised some concerns with News Corp about the bid.

• She discussed the phone-hacking allegations with David Cameron on several occasions between 2009-11. However, she claimed he had not raised the possible involvement of Andy Coulson -- the former 'News of the World' (NOTW) editor -- in phone hacking at any time.

• Mr Cameron used to send her text messages signed off LOL until she pointed out that it stood for 'laughing out loud' rather than 'lots of love'.

• She received direct or indirect messages of support from politicians including Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and former prime minister Tony Blair when she was forced to resign from News International in July 2011. But it is the emergence of an email to Ms Brooks from the News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel, sent on June 27, 2011, and discovered on her BlackBerry, which is most damaging for the Government.

It also provides more evidence News Corp had a secret back channel to what Mr Hunt was planning to do while supposedly making an independent decision on the BSkyB bid.

He writes to Ms Brooks: "Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon (the BskyB deal) this week . . . this is based on his belief the police are pursuing things thoroughly and phone hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issues."

Bribery

Mr Michel then continues: "He wants to prevent a public inquiry (into hacking). JH is now starting to looking (sic) to 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 . . ."

At the time the email was sent, Mr Hunt was under pressure from Labour MPs to delay or refer the BSkyB bid because of the hacking scandal.

Operation Weeting was identifying a growing number of victims and, a week before, News International had secretly passed documents to the police revealing apparent bribery of Met police officers. However, despite this, Mr Hunt essentially approved the News Corp bid, bar a few details, three days after the email was sent.

Last night, sources close to Mr Hunt said he categorically denied telling News Corp he wanted to prevent a public inquiry or had asked the company to advise them on how to handle the Government's response to phone hacking. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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