Jeremy Hunt 'asked advice from News Corp' over phone hacking

Rebekah Brooks's evidence to Leveson has unearthed a very awkward email

Column LAST UPDATED AT 17:20 ON Fri 11 May 2012

A BOMBSHELL email that suggests Jeremy Hunt sought advice from News Corp on how to handle the phone hacking scandal has put the Culture Secretary firmly back in the firing line.

The email, released as part of Rebekah Brooks’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry, was sent to the former News International CEO by Fred Michel, the European mouthpiece of News Corp. It contains the line:

“JH is now starting to looking [sic] to phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10's positioning…”

The email also suggested that Hunt wanted to “prevent a public inquiry” into phone hacking at the News of the World. Hunt’s office said the version of events described by Michel’s email was “completely inaccurate”.

Hunt, who claims that Michel was really only in touch with his special adviser Adam Smith - who has now resigned - has said he will answer his critics when he appears in front of Leveson in the next few weeks.

However, there will be even more pressure on David Cameron to open an independent inquiry into whether Hunt broke the ministerial code in the contacts through Smith and Michel, because Lord Leveson yesterday insisted that ruling on the issue was none of his business, guv’nor.

And Hunt might not be the only Cabinet minister investigated should an inquiry be instigated. Brooks also dragged George Osborne, the Chancellor, into the row over leaks to the Murdoch empire regarding News Corp’s bid to takeover BSkyB.

Until today, Osborne had remained largely free of the mud being thrown around about the bid, and the contacts between Hunt’s office and Murdoch executives through Michel.

But this afternoon, Brooks revealed that she discussed with Osborne over a private dinner a highly sensitive letter sent by Ofcom, the communications regulator, to News Corp saying it had found “potentially material public interest issues” which could have killed the bid.

Brooks sent an email to Michel on 14 December 2010 telling him that Osborne was “baffled” by the Ofcom intervention. It said: “Same from GO - total bafflement in response.” She told the inquiry today: “This seems to refer to the Ofcom issues letter that had been sent out a few days before.”

Under questioning by Robert Jay, the inquiry lawyer, she said she had met the Chancellor with her husband and George Osborne's wife at a restaurant the night before she sent the email. · 

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