The embattled culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, came under renewed pressure when the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks disclosed an email appearing to show he had sought the company’s advice over how Downing Street should respond to the mounting phone-hacking scandal.
The email, which also suggests Hunt sought to avoid a public inquiry into phone hacking, emerged on another day of extraordinary disclosures about the intimacy between Rupert Murdoch’s company and government ministers.
The email from News Corporation lobbyist Frédéric Michel written in June 2011 told Brooks that Hunt was poised to make an “extremely helpful” statement about the company’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB, saying the takeover would be approved regardless of phone-hacking allegations.
Michel warned her, days before the Guardian revealed that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been targeted by the News of the World, that “JH [Jeremy Hunt] is now starting to looking into phone-hacking/practices more thoroughly” andhe “has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10′s positioning”.
A culture department spokesperson said on Friday: “Jeremy Hunt will respond to this when he gives his evidence to the Leveson inquiry in due course. He is confident his evidence will vindicate the position that he has behaved with integrity on every issue.”
During five hours of testimony, Brooks revealed she dined with George Osborne on 13 December 2010, when she discussed Ofcom’s initial objections to News Corp’s £8bn bid. The objections had been sent in a confidential “issues letter” by the media regulator to her company three days before. Following a short discussion, the then News International boss reported to James Murdoch the next day that Osborne had expressed “total bafflement”.
In a steely and at times tetchy performance, Brooks said her lobbying of the chancellor had been “entirely appropriate” because she was “reflecting the opposite view to the view he had heard by that stage from pretty much every member of the anti-Sky bid alliance”.