PM's press chief 'made threats to paper over Miller expenses probe'

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The Independent Online

One of David Cameron's most senior aides was last night accused of threatening a national newspaper over an investigation it was conducting into the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller.

Craig Oliver, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, is alleged to have warned The Daily Telegraph that its probe into Ms Miller's expenses could have a bearing on the Government's final response to Lord Justice Leveson's report on press standards.

Mr Oliver's intervention followed recorded comments by Ms Miller's special adviser to a reporter on the paper in which she said she wanted to "flag up the connection" between the investigation and the editors' meetings Ms Miller, pictured, had been having "around Leveson".

Labour demanded to know if Mr Cameron or Ms Miller had been aware of the calls made on their behalf, suggesting they could be putting Ms Miller's private interests ahead of their public responsibilities. The campaign group Hacked Off, which represents the victims of press intrusion, called for Ms Miller to step aside from talks on the future of press regulation.

Last night Downing Street angrily denied it had tried to put pressure on The Daily Telegraph not to run the story, pointing to Mr Cameron's stated position that there should not be statutory regulation of the press. "We don't accept that threats have been made," said Mr Cameron's official spokesman.

On Monday the Telegraph claimed that Mrs Miller had claimed more than £90,000 in expenses for a second home that was used by her parents. She was said to have listed as her "main" home a more modest rented house in her Hampshire constituency. While the story failed to attract much attention – and was disputed by Ms Miller – the paper subsequently reported that pressure had been brought to bear on them by Downing Street.

Professor Brian Cathcart, executive director of Hacked Off, said the incident illustrated why ministers should be kept at arm's length from the regulation of the press.

In a phone call to the Daily Telegraph's editor, Tony Gallagher, Mr Oliver is said to have indicated that the article was poorly timed as "she [Maria Miller] is looking at Leveson at the moment".