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
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
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project