David Cameron to face Leveson Inquiry next week

 

David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown are among a string of major political figures due to appear before the Leveson Inquiry next week.

The Prime Minister, Chancellor, Deputy Prime Minister and former Prime Minister will give evidence to the inquiry into press standards, along with Labour leader Ed Miliband and former Prime Minister Sir John Major.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond will also give evidence at London's Royal Courts of Justice.

Monday to Thursday will be devoted to the evidence of the eight current and former politicians, with the whole of Thursday set aside for Mr Cameron's.

Mr Brown and Mr Osborne will appear on Monday, Sir John, Mr Miliband and Ms Harman on Tuesday and Mr Clegg and Mr Salmond on Wednesday.

Their evidence will come after a one-week break in Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry.

At the last hearing before the adjournment, on May 31, Jeremy Hunt survived a six-hour grilling over his handling of the News Corporation bid for BSkyB.

Mr Cameron judged afterwards that the Culture Secretary had acted "properly" throughout the period when he was responsible for the bid and decided not to order an investigation into whether he had breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Mr Hunt also insisted there was no reason for him to quit - though he admitted in his evidence that he had considered resigning.

He also accepted that chatty messages he exchanged with News Corp's James Murdoch while he was responsible for deciding on the BSkyB issue were, with hindsight, inappropriate.

Fresh evidence also emerged of his personal involvement in the BSkyB issue shortly before he was handed quasi-judicial responsibility for it.

Text messages handed over to the inquiry showed he texted Mr Osborne to express fears the Government was going to "screw up" the deal.

He contacted the Chancellor after receiving a phone call from Mr Murdoch questioning the legitimacy of the process when secret recordings of Business Secretary Vince Cable "declaring war" on News Corp emerged.

Mr Cameron and Mr Brown will be asked about their meetings with News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch when they give evidence.

Mr Cameron will also face questioning over his relationship with former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

The close friendship between the pair was laid bare when Mrs Brooks appeared before the inquiry last month.

There will be questions to Mr Cameron over the appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as Downing Street's communications chief and his relationship with News Corp in general.

Mr Osborne will be asked about his role in the appointment after Mr Coulson told the inquiry last month that within two months of his resignation from the now defunct Sunday tabloid, Mr Osborne was courting him for the job.

Mr Osborne could also be questioned over any role he had in the BSkyB saga after it emerged during Mr Hunt's evidence that, after expressing his concerns, the Culture Secretary had been texted by the Chancellor on the subject.

Less than an hour before responsibility for the bid was transferred to Mr Hunt, Mr Osborne sent him a message saying: "I hope you like the solution."

Mrs Brooks said she had a three-minute conversation about the bid with Mr Osborne at a dinner in December 2010. The bid was later dropped.

Mr Brown is likely to give his version of the incident in which he is said to have told Rupert Murdoch he had declared war on his media empire after The Sun switched its support to the Conservatives in September 2009.

Mr Murdoch told the inquiry in April that Mr Brown had rung him in an "unbalanced" state of mind when the tabloid abandoned Labour following the then prime minister's conference speech.

The billionaire businessman said his "warm personal relationship" with Mr Brown broke down after this.

The former premier might also discuss The Sun's 2006 story about his son Fraser having cystic fibrosis.

Mrs Brooks denied the story had been obtained through hacking into medical records and said the information came from a source connected to a charity for the condition.

The inquiry has heard that Mr Brown was very close to Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and, according to Labour's Lord Mandelson, had a "great friendship" with him.

Asked if Mr Dacre had any influence on policy, Lord Mandelson said it may have affected Mr Brown's cooling on Europe and the single currency but suggested that was "by no means the only influence".

The friendship is another topic on which Mr Brown could face questions.

The other figures entering the witness box in courtroom 73 next week are also set to face questions over their relations with the press.

Previous evidence to the inquiry has indicated that Sir John's relations with the Murdoch papers were at times less friendly than those enjoyed by other premiers.

Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie recalled one conversation with the then-prime minister, on the night the UK crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992, which seemed to illustrate the point.

Mr MacKenzie said he told Sir John: "I've got a bucket of s*** on my desk, prime minister, and I'm going to pour it all over you," when the then-leader asked how the story was going to be covered in the paper the next day.

Mr Miliband and Ms Harman have both been critical of the Murdoch empire, with the Labour leader saying its size was unhealthy.

He has also branded its influence on British politics "dangerous" and called for it to be broken up.

Mr Clegg has joined calls for greater "plurality" too, and reportedly criticised politicians who competed to "bow and scrape" before Rupert Murdoch.

Ms Harman has accused the Murdoch empire of becoming too mighty for the Government and the police, and last January The Sun reported that the "po-faced" Labour deputy had asked "the girls in the House of Commons" to help her ban the tabloid's page 3 pictures of topless women.

Scottish First Minister Mr Salmond faces questioning at the inquiry over a relationship with Rupert Murdoch that he has characterised as "good and business-like" despite Labour criticism of his links to the media magnate.

Mr Miliband described Mr Salmond as an "undercover lobbyist" for Mr Murdoch after Lord Justice Leveson heard that News Corp thought the SNP leader would intervene on behalf of the company's BSkyB takeover bid.

Mr Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry last July in response to revelations that the News of the World hacked murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone after she disappeared in 2002.

The first part of the inquiry is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press in general and is due to produce a report by October.

The second part, examining the extent of unlawful activities by journalists, will not begin until detectives have completed their investigation into alleged phone hacking and corrupt payments to police, and any prosecutions have been concluded.

PA

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