Chancellor in denial at Leveson Inquiry

 

George Osborne claimed he had no "strong view" on whether Rupert Murdoch's empire should have been allowed to expand further – but that he and David Cameron rushed to put the decision in the hands of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, before taking legal advice.

The Chancellor also took responsibility for the hiring of Andy Coulson – since arrested – by the Conservative Party and later Downing Street.

George Osborne claimed he had no "strong view" on whether Rupert Murdoch's empire should have been allowed to expand further – but that he and David Cameron rushed to put the decision in the hands of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, before taking legal advice. The Chancellor also took responsibility for the hiring of Andy Coulson – since arrested – by the Conservative Party and later Downing Street.

Mr Osborne told the Leveson Inquiry that he was merely "an external observer" of News Corp's £8bn bid, which he described as a "political inconvenience", and explicitly denied speaking to either Jeremy Hunt or Vince Cable about it.

In several hours of evidence, Mr

Osborne also said under oath that:

* It was the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who first proposed handing responsibility for the bid to another government department following Vince Cable's anti-Murdoch remarks. However, he admitted that he could not say with certainty that Sir Jeremy had specifically recommended handing the decision to Jeremy Hunt.

* The decision to give Mr Hunt responsibility for the bid was taken by Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne before they received legal advice on whether his previous vocal public support for the bid should rule him out of contention.

* He was repeatedly lobbied by James Murdoch over the BBC licence fee.

* He had asked Mr Coulson about the original hacking revelations about the News of the World which led to his resignation as editor, but added: "I guess I had assumed that because there had been a criminal court case there was nothing else."

Mr Osborne denied attending a private meeting in a chalet with the Murdochs in a Swiss ski resort months before the 2010 general election amid allegations that a deal had been done over the family's plans to take full control of BSkyB. He said the meeting had never taken place – but admitted there had been a meeting in a chalet the previous year. He denied that they talked about BSkyB.

Earlier in the day the former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown effectively accused Rupert Murdoch of lying when he strongly denied having told him he was "declaring war on him" after The Sun switched support to the Conservatives in 2009. "This conversation never took place," he said.

Mr Brown said that all his calls with Mr Murdoch while in office had been monitored by the Downing Street switchboard.

He released affidavits from Downing Street aides – who had been listening in on the call – to back up his claim he had not threatened Mr Murdoch.

A News Corp spokesman said later: "Rupert Murdoch stands behind his testimony."

Mr Brown also said that the former News Corp chief executive Rebekah Brooks had texted his wife, Sarah, questioning why one of his ministers, Tom Watson, who was critical of the Murdochs, should be allowed to continue to serve in the government.

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