Brooks sets out close links with Cameron

Sat, May 12, 2012, 01:00

LONDON – David Cameron’s close friendship with former News International boss Rebekah Brooks was laid bare today – including his habit of signing off texts “lots of love”.

Ms Brooks disclosed that the prime minister sent a message urging her to “keep your head up” when she resigned over the phone hacking scandal and expressed regret he could not be more loyal.

The embarrassing revelations emerged as Ms Brooks gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Compounding Mr Cameron’s troubles, she also disclosed a new email suggesting culture secretary Jeremy Hunt colluded with News Corporation in a bid to prevent a public inquiry into phone hacking.

The email from News Corp public affairs executive Fred Michel said Mr Hunt wanted the firm to “guide his and Number 10’s thinking” on the scandal.

But a spokeswoman for Mr Hunt insisted Mr Michel’s only contacts were with his special adviser, Adam Smith, who has already resigned.

Ms Brooks detailed her contacts, for more than a decade, with the most powerful people in the country, including dozens of lunches and dinners with successive prime ministers.

She met or dined with Tony Blair at least 30 times between 1998 and 2007, including three times on their own.

There was a minimum of five encounters with Gordon Brown after he entered number 10, although she said she was closer to his “amazing” wife Sarah.

But the links with Mr Cameron, whom she described as a “friend”, are likely to provoke the most fallout. They met at least once for lunch and four times for dinner following the 2010 general election, including a now notorious Christmas dinner party at the Brooks’ Oxfordshire home on December 23rd.

Ms Brooks said that after she left News International last July she received commiserations from “some Tories” but “very few Labour politicians”.

“I received some indirect messages from Number 10, Number 11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office,” she said.

She indicated that Mr Cameron’s message had been along the lines of “keep your head up”.

Asked to confirm that he also conveyed regret that political circumstances meant he could not be more “loyal”, Ms Brooks replied: “Similar, but very indirect.”

She dismissed reports that Mr Cameron would text her 12 times a day.

Ms Brooks pointed out that her husband Charlie, a contemporary of the prime minister at Eton, had long-standing family links with the Camerons, separate from her own connections.

There had been speculation that Ms Brooks would release text message and email exchanges.

But she said she only had six weeks of material, from the beginning of June to July 17th last year, which was on her BlackBerry.

One of the texts was from Mr Cameron, but the content was compressed and unreadable, she told the inquiry.

Asked whether she discussed the phone-hacking scandal with Mr Cameron between details emerging of pay-offs to victims in July 2009 and her resignation in 2011, Ms Brooks said: “I think on occasion and not very often. So maybe once or twice because the phone-hacking story was sort of a constant or it kept coming up.”

Ms Brooks was also questioned about Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take full control of BSkyB, and said she knew of it a “couple of months” before it was made public in June 2010.

Asked if she discussed the issue with Mr Cameron at the dinner at her home in December 2010, she said it was mentioned because it was in the news after business secretary Vince Cable was reported as promising to “declare war” on Mr Murdoch.

The incident led to Mr Cable handing over responsibility for deciding whether to allow the bid to Mr Hunt. It was later dropped in the wake of the hacking furore.

“I may have mentioned it to Mr Cameron but it is not to be dwelled on because it wasn’t a particularly long conversation,” she said. – (PA)