CONGRATULATIONS’ – Hunt texts Murdoch

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CULTURE secretary Jeremy Hunt sent a congratulatory text message to News Corp executive James Murdoch just hours before he was asked to oversee the firm’s bid for BSkyB, the Leveson Inquiry heard yesterday.

Hunt texted Murdoch: ‘Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go!’

The revelation that Business Secretary Vince Cable was ‘at war with Murdoch’ came at 2.30pm on 21 December. At 4pm Hunt talked on the phone to Murdoch, as they had arranged earlier.

Hunt told the Leveson inquiry that during the 4pm phone call, the News Corp executive was ‘expressing his concern that there was bias in the (bid) process’ because of what Cable said. Hunt added to the inquiry: ‘I think my email to Andy Coulson and text message to George were my response to Mr Murdoch’s call’.

Hunt’s email to Coulson, timed at 4.10pm, said: ‘Could we chat about this. Am seriously worried Vince will do real damage to coalition with his comments.’

Two minutes earlier, at 4.08pm, he texted Osborne: ‘Cld we chat about Murdoch Sky bid am seriously worried we are going to screw this up. Jeremy.’ He followed this with another text, saying: ‘Just been called by James M. His lawyers are meeting now and saying it calls into question legitimacy of whole process from beginning “acute bias” etc.’

Osborne responded by intimating that Hunt had got the job of overseeing the News Corp/Sky bid, texting him at 4.58pm: ‘I hope you like our solution’.

Yesterday Hunt tried to claim his special adviser Adam Smith had acted on his own initiative in contacts with News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel. He said: ‘I did not see Mr Smith as being someone who was telling me what News Corp thought or telling News Corp what I thought.’

Smith told the inquiry last week that Michel had ‘bombarded’ him with telephone calls, emails and text messages. Hunt said of Smith: ‘He is a very uncomplaining, decent, hard-working person. He saw his job as being a buffer for me, a buffer to absorb that pressure.’