Leveson Sketch: The QC damned – with great praise


James Cusick
Friday 25 May 2012 09:59 BST

At 11am, just before Robert Jay called his next witness, the room fell silent and you could hear a helicopter flying over the Royal Courts of Justice. A fire alarm would have been more appropriate. The Leveson Inquiry was suddenly both inquisition and confessionary: two men, once linked at the hip through their friendly emails and text messages about government secrets, were together again, turning on one another's evidence and tilting the future political career of the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Fred Michel, News Corp's light-touch Machiavellian lobbyist, took the stand looking a like a boxer who knew his opponent would find it hard to land a punch. Armed only with the words "can I contextualise that Mr Jay" and dressed in a simple dark suit, crisp white shirt and dark tie, his French accent disguised any hint of unease.

Robert Jay QC's comment that Michel was "great" at his job of schmoozer-in-chief for James Murdoch sounded more appropriate as the morning progressed.

Jay, the lead counsel for Leveson, works like an onion peeler in his questioning, with layer upon layer falling away to reveal something far more interesting, more sinister, than the public outer skin.

Hunt insisted to Parliament last month that "all correspondence between myself and News Corp has been published". Jay produced text messages yesterday from the Culture Secretary to Murdoch's chief lobbyist.

Above them in the courtroom, Hunt's former adviser Adam Smith sat quietly waiting his turn. With that name, he must be familiar with the line from the Wealth of Nations which warns that "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy." Smith's thinking, it became apparent, was defined, ordered and approved by Hunt. In fact he looked like a young Hunt.

The most dramatic moment came at the close of play: a brief moment of hushed disbelief – the air leaving the room – as Jay unveiled a private memo from Hunt to his Prime Minister, locking the men closer.

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