David Cameron is likely to face fresh questions about his friendship with former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, recently cleared of charges relating to phone hacking, after it emerged that a retired police horse she was loaned by the Metropolitan Police was allegedly acquired by her partly for the Conservative leader’s use.
In 2012 Mr Cameron finally admitted – after sustained media pressure – that he had ridden the horse, following days of evasion from No 10.
But in my new book about the phone-hacking affair –The News Machine – I can reveal claims that one of the reasons for Mrs Brooks acquiring the horse in the first place was to allow Mr Cameron to ride.
When a Met officer visited Mrs Brooks at her home near Sarsden, Oxfordshire, to check on the conditions in which the horse, named Raisa, would be kept, she reportedly told him that she wanted the animal for the Conservative leader.
Alan Hiscox, the Metropolitan Police’s longest serving boss at Imber Court, the Met’s horse training centre, recounts the day he was called by his bosses: ‘I got a call a day or two after Ian Blair and Rebekah [Brooks] had seen one another [for lunch in 2007]. It was from his staff officer, I think. I was told Ian Blair had just had a meal with her and that she would like a retired police horse. I was told that this would ‘definitely be a good idea for the Met Police’.”
In September 2007, Mrs Brooks and Dick Fedorcio, the Met’s head of media, went to Imber Court to find a suitable beast. Mr Hiscox recalls that soon afterwards it became clear that “people in authority” were interested in the issue. In about October, Mr Hiscox went to the Cotswolds to meet Rebekah and Charlie Brooks to check on the riding and stabling facilities near their house. He declared himself satisfied with the conditions, and impressed by the stable manager who would be giving riding lessons to Mrs Brooks.
What happened next took him by surprise. He alleges: “As we were being shown round the stables, she told me that David Cameron would also be riding the retired police horse. At the time I did not think much of it, other than to wonder why she told me that. She may have been trying to show off, but it was a curious thing to say.”
Mr Hiscox returned to his office and told his boss that the stables were satisfactory and that he believed that Mr Cameron would be riding the horse. “This information would have been passed up the chain and I feel sure Dick Fedorcio and Ian Blair would have known,” says Mr Hiscox. The horse arrived in July 2008, but when it was clear it was hardly being ridden it was returned to Imber Court.
Mr Hiscox defends Mr Brooks against suggestions that he had not cared for the horse: “Clearly it had not been ridden or groomed much, but there was no suggestion by me that it had been mistreated, as was claimed in the press.”
He adds: “Why did David Cameron’s office not say he had ridden the horse in the first instance? It wasn’t clear to me why they were so embarrassed about it. It is possible, I suppose, that Rebekah Brooks was trying to ingratiate herself with Mr Cameron and that she had told him she was going to get it for him, but in normal circumstances it should not have been a big deal.”
In February 2012, the London Evening Standard reported that Mrs Brooks had been loaned the horse. The issue appeared to touch a nerve with the Tory leader. When asked if David Cameron had ever ridden the horse, the PM’s spokesman sought to portray the inquiry as not even deserving of a response. Two days later, Mr Cameron sought to clear things up with a denial. “Since becoming PM I may have got on a horse once, but not that one,” he said, ducking the issue of whether he had ridden the horse beforehand.
Eventually he confirmed that he had ridden Raisa and had known that the horse had been loaned by the Met. The lack of candour chimed with Downing Street’s denial a year earlier of a claim that he and Charlie Brooks had ever been riding together – which they had.
‘The News Machine’ by James Hanning with Glenn Mulcaire (Gibson Square, £12.99) is published on 31 July. To buy it for £11.69 (free P&P), call 08430 600030 or go to independentbooksdirect.co.uk
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