- Remarkable 163-page dossier of emails between Mr Hunt's office and Murdoch lobbyist revealed to Leveson Inquiry
- News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel said he had inside information on a statement Mr Hunt was about to make which was 'absolutely illegal'
- Mr Hunt said it would be 'game over' for the bid's opponents when plans were announced for Sky News to be independent, message claims
Pressure: Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, pictured at No 10 yesterday, is facing calls to resign
But dozens of devastating emails between Mr Hunt’s office and James Murdoch’s chief lobbyist Frederic Michel have laid bare an astonishing secret relationship between the media empire and the minister.
The 163-page dossier – containing 161 pages of emails – released by the Leveson Inquiry reveal that Mr Murdoch was being provided with a running commentary on government thinking and being leaked confidential ‘inside’ information on an almost daily basis.
Crucially, they also suggest Mr Hunt privately backed the controversial deal.
The email trail starts in June 2010, a month after the election, when Vince Cable had responsibility for overseeing the takeover bid.
But they become even more frequent after December of that year when Mr Hunt was put in charge of the deal.
Mr Michel said he didn’t meet Mr Hunt very often but ‘shared a night of anxiety’ when both his and the minister’s wife gave birth in the same London hospital ward.
The lobbyist insisted that phrases in the emails such as ‘spoke to Hunt’, ‘had a call with JH’ or ‘Jeremy said’ were merely ‘shorthand’ for what he was told by Mr Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith.
In one message, the lobbyist emailed Mr Murdoch to say he had ‘managed to get some info’ on what Mr Hunt would announce to Parliament the next day, adding that it was ‘absolutely illegal’.
Mr Michel also appears to have been in contact with the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg’s private advisers.
Here are a selection of the damning emails from Mr Michel to his boss, sent between June 2010 and July 2011:
15.6.2010 Subject: Cable call (a conference call between Mr Murdoch, Mr Cable and Mr Michel)
‘Vince Cable call went very well. He did say he thought “there would not be a policy issue in this case”. We should have recorded him!’
15.6.2010 Subject: Jeremy Hunt/Financial Times tomorrow.
‘Jeremy just called. He did an interview with FT (Financial Times) today, after his chat with JRM (James Murdoch). He was asked about Sky/NC (News Corp). Said it was ‘a matter for competition authorities but he didn’t see any problems’.
15.9.2010 BBC Business Editor Robert Peston blogs that Mr Cable is likely to ask media regulator Ofcom to look at the proposed deal. Seven minutes later, Mr Michel emails:
‘Jeremy Hunt is not aware and thinks it’s not credible at all. He is checking now.’
Calls to quit: Jeremy Hunt, pictured leaving his office in central London last night, defied calls to resign and has vowed to defend his reputation
James Murdoch is pictured being driven away from the Leveson Inquiry yesterday after a day of devastating revelations for the Government
A MEETING WITH REBEKAH5.10.2010 Subject: Rubicon (News Corp codename for BSkyB bid).
‘The Telegraph Group has written to Cable to ask him to refer the bid to Ofcom. The Mail has now also done the same. Rebekah (Brooks, then News International chief executive) and I had a very useful meeting with Jeremy Hunt today on the bid which I will debrief each of you on.’
1.11.2010 Subject: Scotland – confidential.
He claims that a Scottish Lib Dem MP with Sky call centres in his constituency will lobby Mr Cable over the ‘economic/investment point of view’ regarding the deal, adding:
‘Alex Salmond (SNP leader and Scottish First Minister) is very keen to also put these issues across to Cable and have a call with you tomorrow or Wednesday. His team will also brief the Scottish press on the economic importance of News Corp for Scotland.’
Evidence: James Murdoch addresses the Leveson Inquiry yesterday
‘Meeting with Rupert Harrison (adviser to the Chancellor) who works with George (Osborne) yesterday. Confirmed tensions in the Coalition around Vince Cable and his current policy decisions.
‘Vince made a political decision, probably without even reading the legal advice, as confirmed to us also by Vicky Price (sic) (Cable’s adviser at the Business Department) and David Laws (former Lib Dem minister) yesterday.’
‘YOU MUST BE F*****G JOKING’15.11.2010 Subject: Hunt meeting – urgent.
‘Jeremy tried to call you. He has received very strong legal advice not to meet us today as the current process is treated as a judicial one (not a policy one) and any meeting could be referred to and jeopardise the entire process.
‘Jeremy is very frustrated about it but the Permanent Secretary (Hunt’s top Civil Service aide) has now also been involved. My advice would be not to meet him today as it would be counter-productive for everyone, but you could have a chat with him on his mobile which is completely fine, and I will liaise with his team privately, as well.’
Mr Murdoch then emails back: ‘You must be f*****g joking. Fine. I will text him and find a time to meet to avoid legal obstacles.’
Mr Murdoch told the inquiry yesterday: ‘I said I was displeased.’
14.12.2010 Subject: Hunt – confidential.
After Ofcom raises issues about the Sky bid: ‘Very good debrief with Hunt on the issues letter. He is pretty amazed by its findings, methodology and clear bias. He very much shares our views on it.We are going to try to find a way for you to meet with him one/one before Xmas.’ Minutes later Rebekah Brooks, responds to the email writing: ‘Same from GO (George Osborne) – total bafflement at response.’
21.12.2010 Subject: Clegg confidential.
'Illegal' tip-off: Frederic Michel writes that he had been tipped off on an annoucement that Jeremy Hunt is due to make.
Enlarge(Cable has been removed from decision-making process after telling undercover Telegraph reporters he had ‘declared war’ on Rupert Murdoch.) ‘Just spoke. He (Clegg) is absolutely furious. Said Cable’s comments unacceptable.’
Claims: message says Jeremy Hunt does not want News Corp's proposed £8billion takeover of BSkyB to go before the Competition Commission
24.12.2010 Subject: Hunt – confidential.
‘Just spoke to JH (Hunt). Said he was very happy for me to be the point of contact with him/Adam (Smith) on behalf of JRM (Murdoch) going forward.
‘Very important to avoid giving the “anti” any opportunity to attack the fairness of the process and fine to liaise at that political level, while also DCMS (Department for Culture)/NWS (News Corp) legal teams are in touch.’
‘HE WANTS US TO TAKE THE HEAT’23.1.2011 Subject: update – confidential.
'Jeremy tried to call': Message says Jeremy Hunt was 'very frustrated' that he had been advised not to meet News Corp executivesEmail to News Corp executives, giving a detailed timetable, in advance, of Mr Hunt’s plans to announce on January 25 that he intended to refer the bid to the Competition Commission – but before doing this he will take more time to consider News Corp plans to spin off Sky News.
‘He (Jeremy Hunt) understands fully our concerns/fears ... but he wants us to take the heat, with him, in the next two weeks.
‘He very specifically said that he was keen to get the same outcome and wanted JRM to understand he needs to build some political cover on the process.
‘If he were not to provide any details of the Ofcom report, he would be accused of putting a deal together with us behind closed doors and it would get in a much more difficult place.
‘His view is that once he announces publicly he has a strong UIL (undertaking from News Corp), it’s almost game over for the opposition. He said we would get there at the end and he shared our objectives. He is keen for me to work with his team on the statement during the course of tomorrow and offer some possible language. That’s really good news.’
Mail: This was sent on the day Mr Michel wrote to Mr Murdoch describing the Culture Secretary's views about a recent letter about the proposed merger published by regulator Ofcom
‘IT’S ABSOLUTELY ILLEGAL!’24.1.2011 Subject: Re: CONFIDENTIAL – JH STATEMENT.
On the eve of Hunt’s announcement, Mr Michel provides a detailed breakdown of precisely what the minister will say.
‘Managed to get some infos (sic) on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal!)’
25.1.2011 Subject: JH.
‘Just had an update on today’s events with JH. We seem to have been able to weaken most of the arguments of the complainants and Labour and expose Ofcom’s very political/biased approach towards the bid and its rationale.
‘JH believes we are in a good place tonight. Let’s see what the morning’s coverage brings.’
HUNT'S NIGHT AT THE OPERA
9.2.2011 Subject: CONFIDENTIAL – JH – CONFIDENTIAL.
‘I have managed to get hold of JH quickly before he went in to see Swan Lake .... and have further chat.
‘I told him he had to stand for something ultimately and this was his chance to dismiss Ofcom’s views and show he had some backbone, he said he couldn’t ignore Ofcom, he had brought them into this OFT process to get some cover and in public debate, he would get absolutely killed if he did such a thing.’
'THIS IS SUCH FUN' SAYS LEVESON'S QUIZMASTER ROBERT JAY
But it appears the leading silk enjoys nothing more than making media heavyweights squirm under the heat of his interrogations.
As Lord Leveson cut short Jay’s grilling of James Murdoch for lunch this afternoon, a journalist claimed to have spotted him turn to another lawyer and gleefully whisper what a good time he was having.
ITV News’ UK Editor Keir Simmons wrote on Twitter: ‘Leveson rises, James Murdoch's questioner Robert Jay QC walks away and mouths to colleague 'this is such fun'.
Since taking on the role as Leveson’s chief forensic inquirer his most high profile media interviewees include Rupert Murdoch, Piers Morgan, Kelvin McKenzie, Rebekah Brooks and Dominic Mohan over ethical standards at their media organisations.
Figures have revealed that, until January 31, £536,100 of tax-payers’ money was used to meet the costs of his three-man interrogation team.
While the exact fees paid out to each barrister are not disclosed, it has been reported that Jay would earn £180-£250 a hour for his work.
‘I debriefed him on the NoW (News of the World) issues and what we have been doing since last week to address (phone hacking) claimants and also engage in details with the select committees.
‘We are still looking at a decision to be made just after the local elections, so around 5-10th May. Given the current onslaught in the media against News International, the numerous allegations of pressures/collusions with the Government and the attempts to make the Sky deal a test of our suitability as a UK corporation, there will be a strategic decision to make for the Government as to the day it will chose (sic) to clear the deal.
‘We know it will clear it. We just need to push them strongly now to announce it as early as possible.’
'HE UNDERSTANDS OUR FRUSTRATION'
17.5.2011 ‘JH just called back. He said he might give you a call in the coming days. He understands our frustration on the process.’
2.6.2011 Subject: JH confidential.
‘JH just called. He said that over the last few days he has been causing a lot of chaos and moaning from people at DCMS on our behalf. I should have an update later today.’
6.6.2011 Subject: JH – confidential
‘As discussed, had very strong conversation with JH and explained we had now no intention of engaging further in any more commercial negotiations with OFT (Office of Fair Trading) or Ofcom and had reached a very delicate stage.
‘I also insisted he needed to get a grip..... JH repeated he was definitely keen to see this through as quickly as possible and was having conversations with his lawyers today/tomorrow and also Ofcom.’
E-mail: Two days before Mr Hunt's addresses Parliament Mr Michel wrote to News Corp executives, stating: 'His view is that once he announces publicly he has a strong UIL (an undertaking in lieu from News Corp), it's almost game over for the opposition.'
‘SO WILL HE BE AT TAKE THAT?’7.6.2011 Mr Michel emails Mr Smith asking why News Corp has been unable to meet DCMS minister Ed Vaizey since the general election.
Mr Smith replies: ‘I would think it is obvious why he hasn’t met News Corp. The same reason Jeremy isn’t coming to the (News Corp) summer party.’
After another email exchange on the subject, Mr Michel writes: ‘By the way, does that mean you and Jeremy will not be coming to Take That on July 4th?’
30.6.2011 Subject: JH debrief.
January 2011: 'JH said there was plenty of support for the remedy in the statement'
Update: Jeremy Hunt is 'impressed' by the latest submissions from News Corp, according to this email
7.7.2011 Subject: Clegg – confidential.
Email to Mr Murdoch.
‘Impressed. Reassured me that he is not trying to block anything and believes decision on Sky deal is in Hunt’s hands only...’
7.7.2011 Subject: JH – CONFIDENTIAL – please read.
Email to Mr Murdoch.
‘Latest on Rubicon. Was not discussed at the No10 meeting that Hunt had with the PM – was discussing the two enquiries (‘police’ one led by a judge, and ‘media practices’ one not with a judge and led by DCMS).
‘The closure of NoW does not affect JH decision and if anything help (sic) the media plurality issue by weakening our voice.
‘The cabinet divisions reported in the press are much more to do with the hacking saga rather than the deal itself.’
'Not impressed': Frederic Michel provides an update on the £8bn takeover of BSkyB on February 23, 2011, as they try to get over regulatory hurdles
Alex Salmond cosies up to The Sun: Email reveals he had a 'very good dinner' with the editor of The Sun in Scotland
Deal on: Frederic Michel is pleased the media are talking about the value of the BSkyB bid rather than whether it should go ahead
'Does that mean you will not be coming to Take That?': Frederic Michel's email to Mr Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith from June 7, 2011
'Idiotic debate': Jeremy Hunt was happy with the way a debate on the takeover went on June 30, 2011, according to this email from Frederic Michel
Update: In a mail to James Murdoch, Frederic Michel says Jeremy Hunt will 'expose the politicalisation by Labour of a regulatory/legal process'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2134561/Damning-emails-reveal-backdoor-collusion-Jeremy-Hunt-News-Corp.html#ixzz1t23C0Cgz