Maria Miller expenses scandal: Did Culture Secretary's special adviser threaten journalist?

 

Further pressure mounted on the Culture Secretary Maria Miller as the Daily Telegraph released an audio tape of a phone call between her special adviser and a reporter investigating her expenses claims.

The footage reveals that Mrs Miller’s aide Jo Hindley “flagged up” a meeting the Cabinet minister would be having with the paper’s then editor Tony Gallagher about the Leveson report into press standards – a move both Mr Gallagher and the reporter regarded as a threat.

The tape comes as details of letters sent by Mrs Miller to the parliamentary commissioner that investigated her expenses claims led to allegations by Labour MP John Mann that the MP may have bullied the watchdog during the lengthy inquiry - a charge she denies.

Commissioner Kathryn Hudson recommended that Mrs Miller should repay £45,000 in expenses claimed for a house which she shared with her parents. This was overruled by cross-party House of Commons Standards Committee who calculated that Mrs Miller should pay £5,800 in over-claimed mortgage interest.

The 10-member committee attempted to defuse criticism of its actions by releasing a joint statement with Ms Hudson describing the situation as "complex" and stressing Mrs Miller had been rebuked for failing to co-operate with the investigation.

In the released audio tape Ms Hindley is heard telling the reporter that another journalist who called at Mrs Miller's home had spoken to the MP's father, who had recently been in hospital. Some details were omitted from the recording to protect his privacy.

"I should just flag up as well, whilst you're on it, that when she doorstepped him, she got Maria's father, who's just had a [omitted] and come out of [omitted]," Ms Hindley says.

"Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I'm just going to flag up that connection for you to think about,” she adds.

Read more: Labour minister accuses David Cameron of ‘double standards’
Why has the Prime Minister been so soft on Maria Miller?
Maria Miller expenses row: Cameron continues to back Culture Secretary

Mr Gallagher told BBC2's Newsnight that he regarded the reference to the inquiry a threat: "Bear in mind this was a time of what I would call anti-press hysteria.

"The press was feeling very vulnerable just after the publication of the Leveson Report and there was a great desire on the part of all media organisations not to fall foul of somebody raising the spectre of Leveson.

"We were in no doubt that threats were being made. Joanna Hindley was not even attempting to be sophisitcated about it - she menaced the reporter openly... The reporter took that as a very clear threat."

A Whitehall source said that it was clear from the recording, made without Ms Hindley's knowledge, that she had been voicing concerns about the doorstepping of Mrs Miller's father, who was ill, and had been making clear that the minister would raise the issue at an upcoming meeting with the editor, which happened to relate to the Leveson report.

The source said that Mrs Miller did in fact speak to Mr Gallagher about the treatment of her father, and received a written apology from him.

Mr Gallagher claimed that he later received a similar call from Downing Street director of communications Craig Oliver, adding: "When you get the Prime Minister's spokesman making a similar phone call to you a couple of days later, you add all three calls up and you can only conclude that they are trying to harass you and stop you from publishing the story."

But Mr Oliver told the BBC: "It is utterly false to suggest that I threatened Tony Gallagher over Leveson in any way. The conversation I had with him was about the inappropriate doorstepping of an old man."

Prime Minister David Cameron has offered his “warm support” to the Secretary, despite a 32-second apology she made to the Commons earlier in the week being ill-regarded by other MPs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders