Ian Burrell: A relationship with a minister that was too cosy for comfort

The emails present a strong case for taking plurality issues out of thehands of politicians

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The Independent Online

Unlike that famous Fred from the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin, the News Corp executive whose correspondence formed the basis of yesterday's dramatic session at the Leveson Inquiry will never have to answer to the name of Fred the Shred.

The rich cache of 163 pages of email correspondence from the Murdoch empire's public affairs chief, Fréd Michel, forms a compelling case for taking plurality issues out of the hands of politicians.

The emails suggested a worrying level of intimacy between a charming lobbyist and the office of Jeremy Hunt, who was deciding whether to allow the takeover of BSkyB. Mr Michel claimed to have had prior notice of a speech that the Culture Secretary was to make on the BSkyB bid and admitted such a leak was "absolutely illegal".

Mr Hunt's role in the inquiry was already controversial. Just as fears were raised that the Business Secretary Vince Cable was biased against News Corp, Mr Hunt – who described himself as a "cheerleader" for the Murdoch company on his website – is shown to be intimate.

The emails suggest an altogether different relationship to the unimpeachable one indicated by Mr Hunt at the time the bid was being scrutinised, when he suggested he was beyond the reach of lobbyists. "He has clearly been found to have been acting contrary to the quasi-judicial capacity that he was assuring everybody he was conducting himself in and I think that's pretty serious," Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, said.

As for James Murdoch, his star has dropped from the sky. The man who brought down the imperial axe on the News of the World last year and appeared to be the presumed heir to the family business spent much of yesterday highlighting that he was anything but powerful. To the incredulity of Lord Justice Leveson, he even tried to dodge one question with the self-deprecating response: "I think that's above my pay grade."