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9:44am UK, Saturday May 12, 2012
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is facing fresh calls to resign after claims he sought “private advice” from News Corporation over phone hacking at the News Of The World.
The senior Tory is back under pressure after the emergence of an email, which had been sent to the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks by a News Corp PR executive.
It was sent to her on June 27, 2011, as the controversy over phone hacking was beginning to build and at a time when News Corporation was bidding to take over full control of BSkyB.
The message, written by the company’s PR executive Fred Michel, is one of a number he wrote as he acted as a liaison between Rupert Murdoch’s company at the Culture Secretary’s department.
The email was disclosed to the Leveson Inquiry by Rebekah Brooks
It stated: “Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon (BSkyB bid) this week. He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in Parliament few weeks ago.”
The email goes on to say: “JH (Jeremy Hunt) is now starting to looking (sic) to 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 inquiry has previously heard that Mr Michel would often refer in his emails to contact with Mr Hunt, but in reality it was more likely to have been his special adviser Adam Smith he was in direct communication with.
Mr Smith has since resigned, admitting he had at times gone too far in the contact he had with Mr Michel.
However, Prime Minister David Cameron continues to face calls to order an investigation into his Culture Secretary’s conduct, amid claims he may have breached the Ministerial Code.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, responding to the latest revelations, said: “This is absolutely not acceptable. How much more evidence does David Cameron need that this man is not fit to hold this high office?”
She continued: “Clearly there was complete collusion between the Secretary of State and his office and News Corp on a bid where he was supposed to be impartial, which is why he should not be in his job.
“Either he didn’t know what was going on on an £8bn bid, in which case he shouldn’t be in his job and he should be sacked, or he did know and he is covering up and blaming everybody else, in which case he should be sacked.”
A spokesman for the Culture Department said: “Jeremy Hunt will respond to this when he gives his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in due course.
“He is confident that his evidence will vindicate the position that he has behaved with integrity on every issue.
“It has already been made clear that when Fred Michel has claimed in emails to be speaking to Jeremy Hunt that was not the case.”