Cameron knew Hunt would back BSkyB bid

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Devastating memo shown to Leveson Inquiry puts PM in line of fire

The political scandal over Rupert Murdoch's battle to buy BSkyB moved closer to David Cameron last night after new evidence undermined the Prime Minister's claim that his Government was scrupulously even-handed in deciding on the £8bn deal.

A damning memo, released by the Leveson Inquiry, revealed for the first time that Mr Cameron already knew his Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was in favour of the bid, before he handed him quasi-judicial power to rule on it.

In the private message to the Prime Minister, Mr Hunt told Mr Cameron of James Murdoch's fury at his treatment, and stressed the importance of the deal going through. Only a month later, and despite knowing Mr Hunt's views, Mr Cameron handed him responsibility for making the decision on the bid. At the time he was under pressure from the Liberal Democrats to hand the decision over to a more impartial figure, such as the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

Importantly, the memo was also never seen by the then Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell, who later assured critics that Mr Hunt's past statements did "not amount to a pre-judgement of the case in question". Mr Cameron has previously said he had "nothing to do" with the specifics of the bid, and is now likely to be questioned on this when he appears before the inquiry.

In a day of new revelations at the Leveson Inquiry, which heard evidence from both Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith and the News Corp lobbyist Fréd Michel, it emerged that:

* Mr Hunt may have misled Parliament over a statement he made claiming he had had no contact with Mr Michel other than official meetings. Messages released by the inquiry revealed he had texted him on at least three occasions, including one which read: "When consultation over we can have coffee like the old days."

* More than 1,000 text messages were exchanged between News Corp and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport during the bid process, including 257 from Mr Smith to Mr Michel.

* Mr Michel admitted Mr Smith had given him regular updates on the "timings" and "process" of the bid, but said this did not amount to a "running commentary" of the Government's thinking.

But the most damaging revelation was the emergence of the memo from Mr Hunt to the Prime Minister on 19 November 2010, in which he made clear his support for the Murdoch empire's ambition to take full control of BSkyB. It also suggests Mr Hunt was aware News Corp was plotting a "Wapping mark 2" by uniting UK print, internet and TV interests – potentially fatally undermining its competitors. In it he wrote: "Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world's first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad."

He added: "It would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson [BBC Director General]/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway."

Last night Downing Street pointed out that Mr Hunt had previously made clear in public that in principle he had no problem with the bid. "Jeremy Hunt's note is entirely consistent with his public statements on the BSkyB bid prior to taking on the quasi-judicial role," said a spokesman. "It also makes clear that 'it would be totally wrong for the Government to get involved in a competition issue which has to be decided at arm's length'. The PM has made clear throughout that he recused himself from decisions relating to BSkyB and did not seek to influence the process in any way."

However, Labour said that by trying to arrange a meeting to discuss the bid, Mr Hunt had undermined his assertion in the Commons that: "I made absolutely no interventions seeking to influence a quasi-judicial decision that was at that time the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Business." This was denied by sources close to the Culture Secretary. Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, said: "It is clear... that David Cameron gave responsibility to Jeremy Hunt for deciding on the BSkyB bid when he knew only too well that the Culture Secretary was actively supporting the bid."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture