Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of Times Newspapers was a “seminal event” in collusion between the press and politicians, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.
Sir Harold Evans, editor of the Times from 1981 to 1982, was part of a management buyout group who wanted to take over the Sunday Times at the time.
Evans said the takeover was relevant to the inquiry because it shows “the manifestations of the same culture of too close a connection between one powerful media group and politicians”.
He said no one knew Murdoch had a secret lunch in 1981 with then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and explained it was thought the bid would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC).
He told Lord Justice Leveson: “My Lord, if I might say so, the seminal event was 30 years ago. [Current problems] all flowed from the excessive concentration of power in a single media corporation.”
Evans, who edited the Sunday Times for 14 years, said he was “horrified” that the takeover – which he called the most important in British press history – had not been referred to the MMC by trade secretary John Biffen. Evans said journalists at the Times believed the bid would be blocked.
He added: “I was told by someone I knew that Mrs Thatcher had determined [the bid] must go to Mr Murdoch because she valued his support. In this belief I was supportive of Mr Hugh Stephenson at the Times, who had it from a friend in the Cabinet Office that Mrs Thatcher’s real debt of gratitude was the crucial factor in doing this.”
The former editor said his relationship with Murdoch had started well, describing him as an “electric presence”. But by 1982 Evans referred to him as “evil incarnate”.
He said: “He had his heart removed long ago along with moral faculties and human sensibilities”.
Evans described almost coming to blows with Murdoch over economic policy, after he invited the proprietor to his house for dinner. Evans said Murdoch had gone through the business news of the paper – “gouging through” the pages with a pen – following another dinner where the editor was criticised by Murdoch’s friends.
He resigned from the Times in 1982 over editorial differences with Murdoch.
Evans said press regulation could include an independent ombudsman with the power to summon editors and journalists, and issue sanctions. He added the current Press Complaints Commission does “not even have the power to frighten a goose”.