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Jeremy Hunt Defends David Cameron Over Phone Hacking Row

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PRESS ASSOCIATION -- A senior Cabinet minister has defended David Cameron's handling of the News of the World phone hacking scandal as the Prime Minister prepared to face a barrage of MPs' questions over his role in the affair.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt denied that the continuing political firestorm represented the biggest crisis of Mr Cameron's premiership so far.

But he acknowledged that the Prime Minister needed to demonstrate he was capable of the leadership needed to sort out the crisis which has rocked politicians, police and the media.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee has issued a scathing report accusing the Metropolitan Police of having lacked the will to mount a proper investigation in the face of deliberate obstruction by News International.

It described the conduct of former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, who oversaw the original police inquiry, as "unprofessional and inappropriate" and expressed concern that he had been placed in charge of counter-terrorism policing.

Mr Cameron flew back to London on Tuesday, having cut short his trade mission to Africa to try to get a grip on the crisis which is now lapping at the gates of Downing Street.

The Conservatives disclosed on Tuesday that former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis had given informal advice to Andy Coulson when he was Mr Cameron's communications director in the run-up to the general election.

The role of Mr Wallis - who was arrested last week by police investigating the phone hacking allegations - was already under scrutiny after it was disclosed that he had been working for Scotland Yard as a part-time PR consultant.

Mr Hunt told Sky News: "What the Prime Minister didn't have was a crystal ball that enabled him to predict all the appalling wrongdoing at the News of the World that we now know about. He had assurances that Andy Coulson had not just made to him but to Parliament and to the police that he knew nothing about phone hacking.

"What people will judge the Prime Minister for is 'does he show the leadership to sort out this crisis?' I think what we have seen in the last couple of weeks is that he is grappling with the problem previous prime ministers have ducked for very many years."

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