Hunt was Murdoch’s ‘cheerleader’

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RUPERT Murdoch is to be questioned by the Leveson Inquiry today and tomorrow over the ‘appropriateness’ of his relationship with prime minister Cameron and other senior politicians, including former prime ministers Brown, Blair, Major and Thatcher.

Yesterday Murdoch’s son, former News International Chairman James Murdoch, admitted to the inquiry that he discussed News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB with Cameron at the home of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks on 23 December 2010 – seven months after he became prime minister.

Murdoch was questioned by counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, on his contact with politicians before and during News Corp’s bid for the remaining shares in BSkyB.

Robert Jay QC described Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt as Murdoch’s ‘cheerleader’ for the bid, but Murdoch denied he ordered Hunt to ‘oil the wheels’ of the BSkyB takeover.

Murdoch also denied Jay’s suggestion that he considered the ‘deal was in the bag with this secretary of state’.

Jay described Hunt as a ‘huge ally’ and said: ‘It’s obvious what’s going on here, isn’t it, he’s giving you a nod and a wink.’

Murdoch said he and Cameron spoke at a Christmas dinner at the home of Rebekah Brooks, former editor of The Sun, about how Business Secretary Vince Cable had just been stripped of his responsibilities for regulating the media.

Questioned about his relationship with senior British politicians he told the inquiry about a series of 12 meetings he had with David Cameron while he was leader of the opposition.

Four of those meetings were also attended by Brooks, including the dinner where he said the BSkyB deal was ‘briefly’ raised.

There were also drinks with the Tory leader in September 2009 to discuss The Sun’s plans to back the party in the 2010 general election, the inquiry heard.

Murdoch admitted that he had met Tory leader Cameron 12 times while he was in opposition.

He told of a meeting with Cameron on 10 September 2009 at the George club in Mayfair, to discuss The ‘Sun’s proposed endorsement’ of the Conservatives for the upcoming general election.

The paper made the announcement three weeks later under the headline ‘Labour’s Lost It’ on the day of Gordon Brown’s Labour Party conference speech.

Earlier, he claimed again that although he received the 2008 ‘For Neville’ email which revealed that hacking was rife at the News of the World, he claimed he had not read it fully.

He described the ‘For Neville’ email merely as ‘a thread’ that raised the suspicion of wider phone hacking at the News of the World, rather than proof that he had been informed of the widespread practice.

‘The fact it suggested other people might have been involved in phone hacking – that part of its importance was not imparted to me that day,’ he claimed.