Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Leveson Inquiry: George Osborne sucked into row over BSkyB deal as Jeremy Hunt is rocked by new revelations

Jeremy Hunt

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has become the latest minister to be dragged into the BSkyB takeover scandal as evidence emerged suggesting that he played a behind-the-scenes role in the Government's handling of the £8bn bid.

Records retrieved from the phone of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, show him and Mr Osborne exchanging text messages in the hours after anti-Murdoch remarks by Vince Cable were made public.

Mr Hunt texted the Chancellor asking to talk about the takeover, saying he was "seriously worried we are going to screw this up". Mr Osborne texted back: "Hope you like the solution" – and then Mr Hunt was handed responsibility for deciding on the bid.



The revelation makes it more likely that Mr Osborne will be made to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and have to reveal the contents of his own texts and emails exchanged with the Murdoch empire. Other emails released yesterday show the depth of concern both in Downing Street and in Mr Hunt's own department about whether the Culture Secretary's previous noisy support for the Murdochs was clear evidence of bias and must rule him out of handling the deal. Mr Hunt can be seen emailing the Prime Minister's chief of staff in the hours after the row broke out.



Yesterday, David Cameron made clear he was staking his reputation on Mr Hunt being cleared by the Leveson Inquiry after the Culture Secretary gave more than five hours of evidence explaining his handling of the bid. Downing Street said the Prime Minister had no intention of calling an inquiry into whether Mr Hunt had broken the Ministerial Code and dismissed Labour claims that the Culture Secretary had misled Parliament.



But the position relies on Lord Justice Leveson agreeing that Jeremy Hunt was not aware of the extent and nature of the contact between his special adviser Adam Smith and the News Corp lobbyist Fréd Michel when he produces his final report.



Mr Cameron will also come under pressure from Labour who last night said it was deplorable that Mr Hunt would not face a government investigation under the code.



"David Cameron should never have given the decision to Jeremy Hunt in the first place, because he was clearly already biased," said Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman. In other developments yesterday it also emerged that:



* Mr Hunt texted James Murdoch – hours before he was given responsibility for BSkB bid – congratulating him on European clearance for the takeover. "Just Ofcom to go," he wrote. Mr Hunt accepted he was "supportive" of the takeover before being given responsibility for it but insisted he "set aside any views" he had in his quasi-judicial role.



* Mr Hunt exchanged private messages with Mr Murdoch even once he was in the new judicial role. In March he sent Mr Murdoch a message congratulating him on his new job at News Corp headquarters in America.



* At no stage during his time in office had Mr Hunt used an official government email. All correspondence went through his own Gmail account – inaccessible to his civil servants.



But it was the sequence of events on 21 December 2011 – the day Mr Hunt was given responsibility for the bid – that causes the greatest difficulty for the Government. Records from Mr Hunt's phone show he sent Mr Osborne a message after receiving a phone call from James Murdoch questioning the legitimacy of the process. Timed at 4.08pm, Mr Hunt's message to Mr Osborne read: "Could we chat about Murdoch Sky bid? I am seriously worried we are going to screw this up. Jeremy."



A couple of minutes later, Mr Hunt sent an email to Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor at that time working as Mr Cameron's director of communications: "Could we chat about this? I am seriously worried Vince Cable will do real damage to coalition with his comments."



At 4.58pm, with the formal appointment of Mr Hunt to take over examination of the takeover bid to be announced within the hour, the Chancellor replied by text to Mr Hunt: "I hope you like the solution."



Within 25 minutes, legal advice had been taken from the department's top lawyer over whether Mr Hunt could rule on the deal. Downing Street announced that responsibility for media competition and policy issues was passing to Mr Hunt shortly before 6pm.



Text trail: Inside the minister's iPhone



When these messages were sent and received by Jeremy Hunt, he can never have thought they would be released for public gaze. But his loss is our gain, so read on...





Fred Michel, News Corp lobbyist



From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 18/10/10



Time: 11.19



Message: Hi can you attend Rupert's lecture and dinner on Thursday? James and Rupert would be very keen to welcome you. fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 18/10/10



Time: 12.09



Message: Yes but have to leave 7.45







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 18/10/10



Time: 14.06



Message: Great







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 27/10/10



Time: 18.50



Message: Today Sky cycling team has recruited a new member called...jeremy hunt! Incredible







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 27/10/10



Time: 19.13



Message: He will WIN!







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 27/10/10



Time: 20.05



Message: You should meet him :)







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 2/11/10



Time: 09.25



Message: Just sent Adam our digital numbers







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 9/11/10



Time: 15.20



Message: Hi daddy ! Can you meet James at tomorrow morning for a catch-up? Would be good. Even early morning. Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 9/11/10



Time: 15.20



Message: Will ask [redacted] to call







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 12/11/10



Time: 19.25



Message: JH James and I will see you Monday at 6.45







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 12/11/10



Time: 19.25



Message: Great







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 12/11/10



Time: 19.25



Message: Bon weekend







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 16/11/10



Time: 15.49



Message: Thanks for the call with James today. Greatly appreciated. Will work with Adam to make sure we can send you helpful arguments. Warm regards. Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 16/11/10



Time: 15.49



Message: Pleasure







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 2/12/10



Time: 22.15



Message: Shame about the world cup. Great campaign. See you at your speech Monday. Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 3/12/10



Time: 05.12



Message: Thanks fred nothing u won't like!







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 24/12/10



Time: 16.21



Message: Hi. James has asked me to be the point of contact with you and Adam throughout the process on his behalf. Glad Jon Zeff is in charge of dossier. Have a great Christmas with baby ! Speak soon. Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 24/12/10



Time: 18.47



Message: Thanks Fred. All contact with me now needs to be through official channels until decision made. Hope Daddy has a lovely Xmas! Jeremy







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 24/12/10



Time: 19.02



Message: You too mon ami! Fred







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 20/1/11



Time: 20.53



Message: Great to see you today. We should get little [redacted] together in the future to socialise! Nearly born the same day at the same place! Warm regards. Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 20/1/11



Time: 23.44



Message: Good to see u too. Hope u understand why we have to have the long process. Let's meet up when things are resolved J.







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 21/1/11



Time: 06.57



Message: We do and will do our very best to be constructive and helpful throughout. You were very impressive yesterday. And yes let's meet up when it's all done. Warmest regards fred







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 17.42



Message: You were great at the Commons today. Hope all well. Warm regards, Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 17.42



Message: Merci large drink tonight!







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 17.42



Message: Me too! Taking wife out for dinner!







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 13/3/11



Time: 10.10



Message: Very good on Marr. As always! Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 10.10



Message: Merci hopefully when consultation over we can have a coffee like the old days!







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 13/3/11



Time: 10.10



Message: That would be nice!







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/7/11



Time: 15.45



Message: Come on Nadal !! We should get together to celebrate the one year baby birthdays! Hope all well. Warm regards, Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 3/7/11



Time: 16.03



Message: Agree he MUST win! Let's do that when all over







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 20/7/11



Time: 08.03



Message: Agree with what you said on BBC this morning. Hope all is well. Fred







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 20/7/11



Time: 08.03



Message: Thanks Fred







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 31/7/11



Time: 08.50



Message: Dear Jeremy, I hope you have a great Summer break. I wish we had had better news to celebrate in July but events became too overwhelming and grave for NI. I never had a more horrendous 4 weeks! News Corp is still determined to continue its good work for the media market across the world. Hope to see you soon, warmest regards, Fred.







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Fred Michel



Date: 31/7/11



Time: 17.42



Message: Dear Fred it has been the most challenging time for all of us. Thank goodness we have children to remind us what really matters! Would be great to catch up when the dust has settled Jeremy







From: Fred Michel



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 31/7/11



Time: 19.27



Message: Thank you Jeremy. You are so right! As ever, Fred



Paul Oldfield, DCMS private secretary



From: Paul Oldfield



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 10/7/11



Time: 12.28



Message: No 10 asking for outline options paper on delay, fit and proper, and anther can now trust UILs. Jon Z currently writing and No 10 happy to then take our considered conclusion tomorrow after mtg with counsel etc but want to understand the issue this afternoon. Do you want sight of that paper before it goes?







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Paul Oldfield



Date: 10/7/11



Time: 12.28



Message: Yes







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Paul Oldfield



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 13.16



Message: Has letter to cc gone yet







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Paul Oldfield



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 13.16



Message: Can we have DCMS official in box during debate to advise on any issues of competition law?







From: Paul Oldfield



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 13.19



Message: Legal tor gone to cc. We're just sending the letter with your proposed changes using your e-sig as we speak. Happy for us to do that?







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Paul Oldfield



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 13.39



Message: Yes







From: Paul Oldfield



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 13.39



Message: We'll also do sane for avaaz, Ivan Lewis, News Corp and Sky letters this afternoon. Already issues letters on your behalf consulting Das on public inquiry terms of reference



Sue Beeby, Hunt's special adviser



From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Sue Beeby



Date: 22/12/10



Time: 20.36



Message: Daily Tel running something on my mtg with James M at DCMS earlier in year. Cld u check they know I met all media owners etc.? pretty sure Sky bid not discussed







From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 22/12/10



Time: 20.36



Message: Do you know who is writing it?







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Sue Beeby



Date: 22/12/10



Time: 21.39



Message: Really sorry deleted msg. I'm sure we'll be fine, they hardly havecredibility reporting this issue!







From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 22/12/10



Time: 21.39



Message: Exactly! Have spoken to the guardian too who have run the storyand know from an foi [Freedom of Information request] that the meeting wasn't minuted. Just said you had lots of coffees with people when you first started and due to their nature they weren't minuted



From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 17/2/11



Time: 14.17



Message: Hi had a think about andy drink and think it might be best to wait till news corp process is over. He's so closely linked to them that if you were seen it wouldn't look great. I'm sure he would understand and it should only be a week or so







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Sue Beeby



Date: 17/2/11



Time: 14.55



Message: Ok please tell him and arrange for a few weeks time thx







From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 11.13



Message: I think we should turn down ft event. There are protesters



outside it. Shots would look awful on broadcast and time would



be better spent speaking to newspaper editors. [redacted] as spoken to them provisionally and they were fine about it







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Sue Beeby



Date: 4/3/11



Time: 07.09



Message: Overall papers cld have been a lot worse. I range from being a



curate to being on Ski Sunday! Thank you, u were the best I have



ever seen u, truly outstanding. Don't get poached by No 10!



From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 4/3/11



Time: 07.09



Message: Thank you! I'm so annoyed though. You made the right decision



but no one will say that because of their own vested interests. And they talk about the power of the murdochs!







From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 23/6/11 Time: 11.13



Message: Warning! Please don't take any calls from vince over the next few



days. Will explain all when we speak but he is trying to be very sneaky over news corp







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Sue Beeby



Date: 23/6/11



Time: 16.12



Message: Ok understood!







From: Sue Beeby



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 9/7/11



Time: 10.11



Message: Obviously i don't think you would but don't think you should have



any phone or text contact with any of the murdochs at the moment or indeed anyone at news corp/news int as we will be asked by journos







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Sue Beeby



Date: 9/7/11



Time: 12.46



Message: Agree!



Craig Oliver, Head of communications at No 10



From: Craig Oliver



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 08.11



Message: Hi Jeremy, One thought which I'm sure you are onto. View emerging that Murdoch will pull a fast one on selling Sky News - needs assurances that won't happen. C







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Craig Oliver



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 08.11



Message: Thanks think our agreement will address those concerns and will feed out



Ed Richards, Ofcom chief exec



From: Ed Richards



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 20/12/10



Time: 08.25



Message: I have an urgent last minute request for a meeting from james murdoch this morning and think I ought to do it so will not be able to make the 9 30 meeting. My apologies Ed R.







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Richards



Date: 20/12/10



Time: 08.25



Message: No probs good luck!







From: Ed Richards



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 31/12/10



Time: 17.23



Message: Public interest test report should be with you now, bang on time. Happy to discuss in the new year. Best wishes, Ed







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Richards



Date: 31/12/10; Time: 18.54



Message: Thanks Ed will read with interest! Happy New Year Jeremy



Ed Llewellyn, PM's chief of staff



From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 07.21



Message: Newscorp decision now public. Would PM or DPM like briefing?







From: Ed Llewellyn



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 08.20



Message: Possibly yes -will ask at our 0830. Can you speak to dpm office direct pse?







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 08.20



Message: Sure







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 18.20



Message: Am I officially allowed to talk to my boss now? :-) seriously think we r thru worst, broadcast fine although Mail and Tele will be horrible







From: Ed Llewellyn



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 19.21



Message: Yes you are! Well done today. Give me a call tomorrow - time we had a catch up







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 9/3/11



Time: 12.48



Message: Not a single PMQ on Murdoch - I declare victory!



From: Ed Llewellyn



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 9/3/11



Time: 12.48



Message: Well done!







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 09.07



Message: Does DC really want me to lead debate this afternoon? I have had written legal advice not to. I can challenge, but it seems crazy politically. Shall I come round?







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 09.07



Message: Basically legal advice was only way Govt can support motion is if I have nothing to do with it



From: Jeremy Hunt



To: Ed Llewellyn



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 09.07



Message: Also do we want to put up one person who is unable to support motion?







From: Ed Llewellyn



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 13/7/11



Time: 09.07



Message: Am talking to pm now about it. Have got all your good points



James Murdoch, then N.I. Chairman



From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 12.46



Message: Sorry to miss ur call. Am on my mobile now Jeremy







From: James Murdoch



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 12.52



Message: Have to run into next thing. Are you free anything after two fifteen? I can shuffle after this.







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 12.55



Message: How about 4?







From: James Murdoch



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 12.56



Message: Done







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 12.57



Message: Great and congrats on Brussels, just Ofcom to go!







From: James Murdoch



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 18.33



Message: Big few days. Well played. JRM







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 18.55



Message: Thanks think we got right solution!







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 3/3/11



Time: 18.55



Message: Thanks think wY







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 4/3/11



Time: 16.59



Message: Just been with the Team GB Cycling team in Manchester who aremost impressed with the personal interest you show in their performance!







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: James Murdoch



Date: 31/3/11



Time: 08.59



Message: Many congratulations on the promotion although I am sure u will really miss Ofcom in NY! Jeremy







From: James Murdoch



To: James Hunt



Date: 31/3/11



Time: 08.59



Message: Thanks Jeremy -- sadly I fear they won't see the back of me that easily! Hopefully we can move our other business forward soon so we can catch up properly, best



George Osborne, Chancellor



From: Jeremy Hunt



To: George Osborne



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 16.08



Message: CId we chat about Murdoch Sky bid? am seriously worried we are going to screw this up. Jeremy







From: Jeremy Hunt



To: George Osborne



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 16.08



Message: Just been called by James M. His lawyers are meeting now & saying it calls into question legitimacy of whole process from



beginning, 'acute bias' etc.







From: George Osborne



To: Jeremy Hunt



Date: 21/12/10



Time: 16.58



Message: I hope you like the solution!

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