Jeremy Hunt told me to quit, says former special adviser Adam Smith - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Jeremy Hunt told me to quit, says former special adviser Adam Smith

 

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his special adviser to quit after highly damaging emails revealing the close relationship between his department and the Murdoch empire were released, the former aide said.

Adam Smith said the Secretary of State had reassured him that he had only been doing his job and not to worry on the evening the documents were published.

But the following day Mr Hunt spent the morning in meetings before calling in Mr Smith and telling him everyone "thinks you need to go", he said.

After the emails were published, Mr Smith told the Culture Secretary that if the pressure became so great that it would help if he resigned he would "not hesitate to do so".

He said he could not remember verbatim what Mr Hunt had said in response. "It was something along the line 'It won't come to that'," he added.

Mr Smith told his boss the emails were one-sided and "in many cases exaggerated" and Mr Hunt accepted the explanation.

The pair then went for a drink with other special advisers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and he was told not to worry.

Mr Smith said the following day he was "aware Mr Hunt was having meetings and I was not present".

Asked what Mr Hunt said to him, he replied: "To the best of my recollection, 'Everyone here thinks you need to go' was what he said.

Mr Smith said the pair then discussed how much they had enjoyed working together.

Mr Smith was warned that James Murdoch's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry might be relevant to him, and so watched the 24 April session on TV.

He said in a written statement: "I was surprised to hear evidence about emails which it was said I had sent to News Corp, as I did not recognise much of what was said."

He added: "My initial reaction was that the evidence that had been presented was not the whole picture, that there was a great deal of exaggeration in Mr Michel's emails and that there were in fact relatively few emails from me to Mr Michel."

Mr Smith said following the publication of the documents no-one approached him to go through the contents. "At no time was I invited to consider the evidence which had been published with Mr Hunt or with the Permanent Secretary or anybody else. Neither did Mr Hunt nor anybody else criticise my conduct."

After the meeting with Mr Hunt at which he was told he had to resign, Mr Smith was handed a resignation statement, which "came from the Cabinet Secretary's office".

It began: "While I believed it was part of my role to keep News Corp informed ..." but Mr Smith objected to the words "I believed" and refused to include them.

Mr Smith repeatedly conceded that he had been "too flippant" in the text messages and email exchanges with News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel.

He said: "In hindsight, the tone of the language that I used was not appropriate.

"But I think, in terms of the content, what I said to Mr Michel had either been expressed to Mr Murdoch through meetings and letters, or was known to Mr Michel from the correspondence they were having with Ofcom and the OFT."

The inquiry heard that Mr Michel was told the media giant's BSkyB takeover bid would go ahead once plans to spin off Sky News were accepted.

But Mr Smith said he did not remember telling Mr Michel it would be "game over" for opponents of the buyout after the proposal to make the news channel a separately listed company was announced.

At the time other media groups criticised News Corp's intention to buy the 61% share of BSkyB it did not already own, alleging it would concentrate too much power in Rupert Murdoch's hands.

Mr Michel, News Corp's former director of public affairs in Europe, sent an email to fellow executives on January 23 last year based on a conversation with Mr Smith.

He wrote: "His (Mr Hunt's) view is that once he announces publicly he has a strong UIL (undertaking in lieu, namely the Sky News spin-off plans), it's almost game over for the opposition."

Mr Smith, who quit as Mr Hunt's special adviser last month after admitting he got too close to Mr Michel, said much of the lobbyist's email was factually accurate but disputed its tone.

He told the inquiry: "I think that that's a sort of colourful explanation of the process.

"If you have an undertaking in lieu that Ofcom (the broadcasting regulator) and the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) say satisfied the plurality concerns that Ofcom had identified, then the whole point of that is that then there are no plurality concerns. So the deal would go ahead.

"I don't remember saying 'game over for the opposition', but I can imagine we had a conversation along those lines about the process and talking around what happens."

Mr Michel's email said Mr Hunt was "keen to get to the same outcome" as News Corp.

But Mr Smith disputed this: "I wouldn't have said that... They didn't have the same outcome. Mr Hunt's aim was to follow the process, whereas I'm sure Mr Murdoch's aim was to acquire the remaining shares."

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Leveson Inquiry, suggested: "The wider objective was the same outcome, namely the securing of the bid for News Corp, because he thought in policy terms that was desirable."

But Mr Smith insisted: "That wasn't his objective. Now his objective is to carry out his legal and statutory duties."

Yesterday, the inquiry was shown a memo Mr Hunt sent Prime Minister David Cameron, arguing the case for News Corp to take over BSkyB, just weeks before he was given quasi-judicial oversight of the bid.

The note, dated November 19 2010, warned that Business Secretary Vince Cable's decision to refer the bid to regulator Ofcom could leave the Government "on the wrong side of media policy".

Jonathan Stephens, permanent secretary at the DCMS, said Mr Smith was considered before the emails emerged to be someone who "understood and would abide by his proper role".

He told the inquiry the better the special adviser, the more reliable a guide they were to a Secretary of State's view.

"I think he was well tuned in to the Secretary of State's thinking," he said.

He went on: "The first suggestion that contacts went beyond what was proper was April 24 with the release of emails from Fred Michel and this was the first occasion I recall mention of Michel by name.

"The following morning I told the Secretary of State I thought the number, extent, depth and tone of contacts supported by those emails went beyond what was acceptable."

Mr Stephens said he believed Mr Smith had been drawn into a "web of manipulation" in his dealings with News Corp.

Lord Justice Leveson said the episode was a calamity for the department and the special adviser.

"You have an able, highly regarded young man who isn't in any sense mischievous, who is very keen to do the right thing but has got into a degree of contact, in the context of a small office. How has this happened?"

Mr Stephens said: "How it happened I don't know, but the judgment I have made is that, sadly, Mr Smith personally, I believe against his will and intentions, was drawn into almost what seems to me to be a sort of web of manipulation and exaggeration, and was drawn inadvertently beyond what he intended to do or what he wanted to do. But, unfortunately, he was beyond it."

PA

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

Primary Teacher

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Newcastle: Our clients are looking for...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week