Lots of love: Rebekah Brooks lifts lid on David Cameron friendship at Leveson

 

Rebekah Brooks lifted the lid on her close relationship with David Cameron today - revealing that he would sign off text messages "lots of love".

The former News International boss also disclosed that the Prime Minister expressed regret that he could not be more loyal publicly when she was forced to resign over the phone-hacking scandal.

The highly embarrassing revelations emerged as Mrs Brooks gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

She detailed her contacts with the most powerful people in the country over more than a decade, including dozens of lunches and dinners with successive prime ministers.

She met or dined with Tony Blair at least 30 times between 1998 and 2007, including three times tete-a-tete.

She had more than five such encounters with Gordon Brown after he took over at No 10, although she said she was closer to his wife Sarah.

But the links with Mr Cameron, whom she described as her "friend", are likely to provoke the most fallout.

They met at least once for lunch and four times for dinner following the 2010 general election, including a widely-reported Christmas dinner party at the Brooks' Oxfordshire home on December 23 that year.

Mrs Brooks said after she left News International last July she received commiserations from "some Tories" but "very few Labour politicians".

"I received some indirect messages from No 10, No 11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office," she said.

She said Mr Blair was among them but Mr Brown was not, adding to laughter: "He was probably getting the bunting out."

Mrs Brooks indicated that Mr Cameron's message was along the lines of "keep your head up"

Pressed on whether he had also conveyed regret that political circumstances meant he could not be more loyal, Mrs Brooks replied: "Similar, but very indirect."

Mrs Brooks dismissed reports that Mr Cameron would text her 12 times a day.

"No, thankfully," she said. "I have read this as well, 12 times a day. It is preposterous.

"I would text Mr Cameron, and vice-versa on occasion, like a lot of people. Probably more between January 2010 and maybe during the election campaign.

"He would sign them off DC, in the main. Occasionally he would sign them off 'lol', lots of love. Until I told him it meant 'laugh out loud'."

Mrs Brooks said she only had six weeks of information from the beginning of June to July 17 last year.

One of the text messages was from Mr Cameron, but the content was compressed and unreadable, she said.

Mrs Brooks pointed out that her husband Charlie, a contemporary of the Prime Minister at Eton, had longstanding family links with the Camerons separate from her own connections.

She stressed that details of the meetings came from her secretary's diary and were "very incomplete", as she had no access to records at her former company.

Asked whether she discussed the phone-hacking scandal with Mr Cameron between details emerging of pay-offs to victims in July 2009 and her resignation last year, Mrs Brooks said: "I think on occasion and not very often. So maybe once or twice because the phone-hacking story was sort of a constant, or it kept coming up.

"We would bring it up but in the most general terms ... Maybe in 2010 we had a more specific conversation about it."

Mrs Brooks went on: "It was to do with the amount of civil cases coming in around 2010 and we had a conversation about that...

"It was a general discussion... I think it had been in the news that day and I think I explained the story behind the news."

Asked whether Mr Cameron's interest was related to the position of his then-spin doctor Andy Coulson, Mrs Brooks said: "No."

Mrs Brooks was also questioned about Rupert Murdoch's attempt to take full control of BSkyB, and said she knew of it a "couple of months" before it was made public in June 2010.

Asked if she discussed the issue with Mr Cameron at the dinner at her home in December 2010, she said it was mentioned because it was in the news after Business Secretary Vince Cable was reported to be promising to "declare war" on Mr Murdoch.

The incident led to Mr Cable handing over responsibility for deciding whether to allow the bid to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. It was later dropped.

"I may have mentioned it to Mr Cameron but it is not to be dwelled on because it wasn't a particularly long conversation," she said.

She had a "three-minute conversation" on the topic with George Osborne at dinner in December 2010.

"I put my views that were contrary to the ones that he had heard from everyone else," she added.

The following day Mrs Brooks emailed News Corporation public affairs executive Fred Michel saying that Mr Osborne had expressed "total bafflement" at Ofcom's latest response to the bid.

"It was an entirely appropriate conversation," she insisted. "They were all saying the same thing - 'it is not my decision'."

Mrs Brooks said she did not remember discussing it with Mr Cameron at a mulled wine and mince pie party at her sister-in-law's house on Boxing Day 2010, and she was not sure if they even spoke that night.

After she became editor of the Sun in 2003, Mrs Brooks said she spoke to media mogul Mr Murdoch "frequently".

But she quashed a rumour that the pair used to swim together when he was in London, and denied that, after she was arrested in 2005 over an alleged assault on her then husband, the actor Ross Kemp, Mr Murdoch sent a dress to the police station where she was being held.

She was later released without charge and the police took no further action.

Mrs Brooks told the inquiry she met Mr Blair in 1995 after he became leader of the Labour Party, and their meetings became more frequent throughout his decade as premier.

They met formally, informally and socially, and often spoke on the telephone, she said, admitting she was "friendly" with him and his wife Cherie.

But she said there were no emails or texts because Mr Blair "did not have a mobile phone or in fact I think use a computer when he was prime minister".

Mrs Brooks spoke about the Sun's decision to back the Tories at the 2010 General Election, saying she had tried to get hold of Mr Brown at the September 2009 Labour conference the night before the paper was due to declare its support.

"Mr Brown and his wife were due to come to the News International party that night and I wanted to get hold of them," she said.

Mrs Brooks eventually spoke to Lord Mandelson, who seemed "quite angry but not surprised".

She told of an "extraordinarily aggressive" conversation with Mr Brown the following month.

"I remember it quite clearly because it was in response to the Sun splash on a letter that Gordon Brown had written to a bereaved mother whose son had died in Afghanistan.

"He had had some spelling mistakes or got the wrong name or something but the Sun had been particularly harsh to him about it...

"He rang me... it was a private conversation but the tone of it was very aggressive. Quite rightly, he was hurt by the (presentation) and the headline that had been put on the story."

Mrs Brooks said she reassured the then-prime minister that the coverage had been a "mistake", and did not reflect the attitude the Sun would be taking to him.

Rupert Murdoch told the inquiry last month that Mr Brown telephoned him after the switch in allegiance to the Tories and promised to "declare war" on his business empire. The ex-premier has denied the claim.

Mrs Brooks also denied hacking into medical records to discover that Mr Brown's son Fraser had cystic fibrosis. Instead, the information came from a source connected to a charity for the condition.

PA

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