David Cameron today claimed that he had no recollection of more than 20 key events and conversations going to the heart of his Government’s relationship with the Murdoch empire.
During more than five hours of questioning at the Leveson judicial inquiry, Mr Cameron repeatedly said he couldn’t remember or recall discussions he had had over phone hacking, the BSkyB takeover or the appointment of Andy Coulson as his communications chief.
But the Prime Minister did insist that at no stage was there ever a “covert or overt” deal with News International in return for their political support, despite his close personal relationship with both Mr Coulson and the News International chief executive Rebekah Wade.
The Prime Minister's aides insisted afterwards that he had not tried to evade the inquiry’s questions but had not wanted to comment on oath on events in the past that he genuinely could not remember. “He is only human,” they said.
But in a fresh embarrassment, a text message was released by the Inquiry illustrating the extraordinary close relationship that was built up between Mr Cameron and Ms Brooks when the Tories were in opposition.
In the message sent shortly after The Sun came out in support of the Tories, Ms Brooks told Mr Cameron, “we’re definitely in this together” – a phrase which Mr Cameron later used to characterise how the country should deal with the financial crisis.
Ms Brooks also described herself as a “proud friend” of Mr Cameron and said she was “so rooting for you” ahead of his key conference speech and suggested catching up for a “country supper”. She ended her email with a phrase which later appeared in a Sun editorial: “Speech of your life? Yes he Cam.”
Asked to explain the message, Mr Cameron told Lord Justice Leveson: “The Sun wanted to make sure it was helping the Conservative Party put its best foot forward with the policies we were announcing, the speech I was making. That's what that means.”
He went on: “We were friends. But professionally, me as leader of the Conservative Party, her in newspapers, we were going to be pushing the same political agenda.”
As part of his evidence Mr Cameron admitted he met Ms Brooks 19 times, James Murdoch 15 times and Rupert Murdoch 10 times just while he was in opposition.
In addition he said he met Ms Brooks around once every six weeks in Oxfordshire where they both had homes.
But he insisted that on no occasion had they had inappropriate discussions and there had been no substantive talks about News Corp’s bid for BSkyB either with Ms Brooks or James Murdoch.
Mr Cameron said his decision to hand responsibility for the bid to Jeremy Hunt had not been his idea but instead that of the now Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood.
Mr Cameron said that at the time he had not seen a memo, sent to him by Mr Hunt a few days before, backing the bid and warning that the UK's media sector “would suffer for years” if the deal was blocked.
He insisted that even if he had read the memo it would not effected his decision and quoted from a letter written to the inquiry by the Government lawyer Paul Jenkins that suggested it would not have altered the advice he gave to the PM on the day.
The letter said: “I'm quite clear that my advice to Sir Gus (now Lord O'Donnell) would not have been any different had I seen the note at the time.”
Mr Cameron added: “I accept there was controversy but I think the backing of two permanent secretaries and a lawyer is quite a strong state of affairs.”
Turning to his appointment of Andy Coulson and the checks which were carried out to determine what he knew about phone hacking Mr Cameron said he knew it would be “controversial”.
But he insisted that he had sought assurances from the former editor that he had no knowledge of phone-hacking practices at the now-defunct newspaper, despite criminal convictions of staff under his editorship.
Mr Cameron said: “Why did I feel he deserved a second chance? Because I though that he had done the honourable thing.
“Something very bad had happened on the newspaper he was editing. He did not know and he resigned.”
Mr Coulson had also given the same assurances to the police, Press Complaints Commission and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee at various stages, which had all “accepted his word”, Mr Cameron added.