Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

PM and Brooks 'in this together'

Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards at the Royal Courts of Justice in London

The closeness of David Cameron's links to the Murdoch media empire have been further exposed when it was revealed Rebekah Brooks told him they were "definitely in this together".

Her text message to the then opposition leader, in which she said she was "rooting for" him personally and professionally, was among missives demanded from News International (NI) by the Leveson Inquiry.

It provided the backdrop to an uncomfortable period of questioning for the Prime Minister as he took his turn on the stand at the probe he ordered into press standards in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

In an all-day interrogation, he said he was haunted by the appointment of ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his spin chief, accused Gordon Brown of inventing anti-Conservative "conspiracy theories" and defended his handling of Jeremy Hunt.

He also said he hoped the review would result in a press regulation system with "real teeth" to punish offenders, setting the acid test of success as whether families like that of murder victim Milly Dowler felt they were now protected.

Mr Cameron's close personal friendship with Mrs Brooks has proved extremely uncomfortable for the premier - the ex-News International chief executive revealing in her evidence that he sometimes signed them off "LOL" to signify "lots of love".

The previously-assured Tory leader failed several times to give a clear answer as to how frequently the pair met when, as leader of the opposition, he was attempting to win over the support of the Sun newspaper, which she edited. It took a lunch-break consultation of his wife Samantha's diary for him to produce a firmer answer.

The new text message, part of a batch retrieved by NI from Mrs Brooks' BlackBerry records, was sent on the eve of Mr Cameron's 2009 party conference speech and just days after the Sun announced it was switching its support from Labour. Mrs Brooks wrote: "I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we are definitely in this together."

While admitting his decision to take on Mr Coulson after his resignation as editor of the News of the World had come back to haunt him, the PM insisted he had been given the assurances he needed over phone hacking. Those pledges had also been accepted by the police, courts, a Parliamentary committee and the Press Complaints Commission, he insisted.

Officials had also backed his decision to assign power of the News Corporation bid for full control of BSkyB to the Culture Secretary in the wake of Business Secretary Vince Cable's secretly-recorded declaration of war on the Murdoch empire, Mr Cameron argued, adding: "I accept there was controversy but I think the backing of two permanent secretaries and a lawyer is quite a strong state of affairs."

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