Johnson row over dinner meeting with Murdoch


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The Independent Online

Boris Johnson was at the centre of a new row over his links to Rupert Murdoch yesterday after it emerged that he "dropped into" dinner with the media tycoon shortly before the police launched a new inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World.

The Mayor of London met Mr Murdoch at his flat in St James's, London, on 24 January 2011, when pressure was growing on his newspaper group News International, and the Metropolitan Police were about to open Operation Weeting.

The Mayor had another meeting with News Corp executives on 14 January 2011, when he met News International's general manager Will Lewis and its then chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

Neither of the meetings – which came to public attention after a freedom of information request by the Political Scrapbook website – were declared by Mr Johnson in his monthly meetings to the Greater London Assembly or in his register of hospitality. However, they were included in a list of meetings with News International published on the freedom of information section of the Mayor's website at the height of the phone-hacking scandal last July.

The existence of the dinner rekindled the controversy about Mr Johnson's relationship with Mr Murdoch which has been smouldering since September 2010 when Mr Johnson, who has responsibility for policing, dismissed calls for the Met to reopen its botched investigation as "codswallop".

At the time Mr Johnson, who enjoys the support of News International's titles, was hoping the company would sponsor a new school and a cable-car scheme in London.

Last year, Mr Johnson's Deputy Mayor for Policing, Kit Malthouse, pressured senior police officers to scale down Operation Weeting in the months before detectives arrested more than a dozen current and ex-News International journalists.

The dinner took place three days after Andy Coulson resigned as David Cameron's director of communications and two days before the Met opened Operation Weeting.

A spokesman for the Mayor said: "Details of the two meetings in question have been published on our website for almost a year."

Mr Johnson's office later said he had not declared the dinner with Mr Murdoch in his hospitality register because it was "below the £25 threshold for hospitality."

As to the earlier meeting with Mr Lewis and Ms Brooks – now charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice – the Mayor's office said News International had been seeking to sign him as a columnist.