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Jeremy Hunt may have sought guidance from News Corp on phone hacking, inquiry hears

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt may have sought guidance from News Corporation over phone hacking, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.

Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of News International, provided the inquiry with an email sent to her by News Corp’s head of communications, Frederic Michel. The message claimed Hunt wanted advice on his position on the hacking allegations.

Michel wrote to Brooks: “JH is now starting to look into 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, sent on 27 June 2010, said Hunt would make reference to hacking in a statement on Rubicon, the name for News Corp’s BSkyB bid proposal, calling the knowledge “extremely helpful”.

A spokesman for Hunt, then in charge of overseeing the bid, called the claim “completely inaccurate”.

Brooks, giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, said she suspected Michel had exaggerated his contact with the minister’s office.

She added: “I think the truth is at the time of the BSkyB bid, I suppose, like most journalists, I viewed public affairs and lobbyists with slight scepticism and I often thought that Mr Michel perhaps over-egged his position. However, he was doing his job. He was passing on information as lobbyist do.

“I always thought the level of access that seemed to come out was pretty good, really.”

The former CEO admitted to discussing the bid with George Osborne in 2010 but said any comments made to David Cameron at a private dinner in the same year where “not to be dwelled on”. James Murdoch had previously told the inquiry he raised the matter with Cameron at the dinner hosted at Brook’s home.

On the conversation with Osborne, she said: “I think it was an entirely appropriate conversation. I was re-reflecting the opposite view to the view that he had heard by that stage from pretty much every member of the anti-Sky bid alliance on many occasions, so I think for one three minute conversation at the beginning of the dinner, I got the opportunity to give our view, I don’t see why that’s inappropriate.”

Brooks told the inquiry she may have spoken to former assistant commissioner John Yates about phone hacking, the 2009 Police Bravery Awards coincided with the Guardian article alleging the practice at News International, but said she had not sat down with the Metropolitan Police officer to discuss it at length.

She refused to disclose the Sun’s source for a 2006 article revealing Gordon Brown’s son had cystic fibrosis, telling inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC that it had come from the father of a fellow patient, with links to a charity.

She said the story had been run with the permission of Brown and his wife, and said the couple had remained friendly after it was published.

She added: “I was very friendly with Mrs Brown she had been through a hell of a lot. First thing I would have said would have been much more considerate and caring. I was very sad for them.”

Brooks admitted the News of the World had mishandled the Sarah’s Law campaign by naming and shaming known sex offenders, but said she could not have predicted reprisals, including one incident where a paediatrician was mistakenly attacked by a group believing the doctor was a paedophile.

She added: “I felt that although there were some aspects to the campaign – and there always risk with any kind of public interest journalism and there’s always risk with campaigning, although there were some issues with the campaign, I was the mechanic in a way to try and explain to the public what the point of the campaign was, was effective and I think there were about 13 or 14 pieces of legislation brought in subsequently on the back of it.”

She went on to deny pressuring Ed Balls MP to sack children’s service director Sharon Shoesmith over the Baby P case, but said she had spoken to then Secretary of State about the case.

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