Cameron has tough time at tribunal

Fri, Jun 15, 2012, 01:00

BRITISH PRIME Minister David Cameron struggled yesterday over the depth of his ties with top News International executive Rebekah Brooks, who is charged with seeking to pervert the course of justice.

During an all-day appearance before the Leveson inquiry, Mr Cameron was distinctly uncomfortable when a text from the once-powerful media executive was read out.

The text, sent by Ms Brooks during the Conservatives’ 2009 conference, urged him to give the “speech of your life”, because “professionally we are all in this together”.

The message opens with a response to a complaint by Mr Cameron about coverage in that day’s Times, before she chided him for not turning up at a News International conference reception.

“But seriously I do understand the issue with the Times. Let’s discuss over country supper soon. On the party it was because I had asked a number of NI [News International] people to Manchester post-endorsement and they were disappointed not to see you.

“But as always Sam (Mr Cameron’s wife) was wonderful (and I thought it was OE’s [Old Etonians] were charm personfied!) I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes, he Cam.”

Meanwhile, it emerged that Mr Cameron and Ms Brooks and her racehorse trainer husband Charlie met significantly more often than the British premier has revealed up to now, at their Oxfordshire homes in Chipping Norton.

Pressed by Leveson counselRobert Jay on how often they met, Mr Cameron was unable to give a clear answer: “I might be able to go back and check, but I don’t think every weekend. I don’t think most weekends. But it would depend.”

Clearly concerned about his replies, Mr Cameron spoke with his wife during the lunch break, who told him, after she checked her diaries for 2008 and 2009, that they met Mr and Ms Brooks “every six weeks”.

The frequency of the meetings and the detail contained in Ms Brooks’s text message contains no major disclosure as such, but they are damaging for the Conservatives, who have been keen to put distance between themselves and Ms Brooks since her arrest and charge.

But Mr Cameron defended his appointment of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to take over responsibility for deciding on the BSkyB bid after Liberal Democrats business secretary Vince Cable was forced to stand down in December 2010 for claiming that he was “at war with Rupert Murdoch”.

Mr Cable’s action was wrong, said Mr Cameron, adding that he had made that clear during a three-minute conversation with Mr Murdoch’s son, James, at a Christmas party a few days later because, he said, business had a right to fair treatment.

Judge Brian Leveson wondered if the decision to appoint Mr Hunt had been wise but Mr Cameron’s position was supported by the treasury solicitor – one of the most senior legal figures in government – who had approved it on the day.

Mr Cameron also defended the fact that he had handed Mr Hunt the task of overseeing News Corporation’s controversial bid for BSkyB, saying it was “not some rushed, botched political decision”. The transfer of responsibility to Mr Hunt had been suggested by Jeremy Heywood, permanent secretary to Number 10, and approved by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell.

“I was a prime minister in search of a solution,” Mr Cameron told the inquiry, who said Number 10 had had no choice but to replace Dr Cable quickly in an era of round-the-clock news: “If anyone had told me that Jeremy Hunt couldn’t do the job, I wouldn’t have given him the job.”