Fresh details of Boris Johnson's "cosy" relationship with senior executives at Rupert Murdoch's News International are revealed tomorrow in a new book to be published about the controversial Tory Mayor of London.
Mr Johnson has cultivated close relationships with both James Murdoch, the former chairman of News International (NI), and Rebekah Brooks, its former UK chief executive who resigned in July as the phone-hacking scandal prompted the closure of the News of the World.
Mr Johnson, who went to Eton with Ms Brooks's husband Charlie, has regularly enjoyed News International hospitality with Ms Brooks as well as James and Rupert Murdoch. He also attended an NI board meeting in June as the row over the hacking allegations increased. Mr Johnson was invited to attend a Take That concert with Ms Brooks and declined only at the last minute after news broke that the NOTW had hacked the mobile phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
The details are revealed in a new biography of the mayor. Just Boris: The Irresistible Rise of a Political Celebrity by the journalist Sonia Purnell described Mr Johnson's relationship with NI as "cosy". She writes: "He is in regular contact with James Murdoch of News International, and before she resigned, Rebekah Brooks, and is given top billing when he writes for The Sun. He has even attended a News International board meeting, and been wined and dined by the company at least six times. The Times has been vociferous in support of his 'Boris Island' airport in the Thames estuary, when most other news organisations (like the airlines) have discounted it."
She said he has appeared "almost unquestioningly on the side of the police and indeed, the newspaper itself, initially denouncing the allegations of illegal hacking as 'codswallop' and a 'politically motivated put-up job by the Labour Party'".
Despite already having been told that his own phone had been targeted by the NOTW after allegations that he had had an affair with a female journalist were published, Mr Johnson continued to dismiss the claims. Ms Purnell writes: "Later he changed his line to suggesting the paper should not be singled out as the practice of phone hacking was widespread in journalism and celebrities actively liked being hacked."
She accuses Mr Johnson of seeming to be unwilling to confront NI bosses over the hacking scandal because of their electoral influence. "Only when it emerged in July 2011 that the NOTW hacked a mobile phone belonging to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler as well as the relatives of dead military servicemen and London Tube bombing victims did Boris finally call for a 'ruthless' investigation. Yet he still praised Rupert Murdoch's 'very considerable' contribution to the British media, adding that he did not subscribe to the line that the media tycoon had in any way 'corrupted or corroded our political debate'."
Mr Johnson has denied exercising poor judgement by dismissing the hacking allegations as 'codswallop'. He also rebuts claims that he failed to provide political leadership for the Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees Scotland Yard.
The Mayor is said to devote a "huge" proportion of his time attempting to raise funds from NI for a series of so-called vanity projects including a cable car crossing the Thames. Ms Purnell writes that it is interesting that the most recent reports of Mr Johnson's extramarital affairs were not broken by the NOTW, his "old tormentor".