Jeremy Hunt's office sought private guidance on how the government should deal with the phone hacking scandal from News Corporation - the company that owned News of the World, it has been alleged.
The claim was made by the firm's head of public affairs, Fred Michel, in an email sent on 27 June last year to News International's then chief executive Rebekah Brooks. The correspondence was seen by the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics on Friday.
In the email Michel also claims that Hunt had given him advance notice of the statement the culture secretary intended to make to the House of Commons in the coming days on News Corporation's bid to take over BSkyB.
Michel also claims that it was not just Hunt's office that was seeking guidance on phone hacking, but also 10 Downing Street.
Robert Jay, the Leveson Inquiry Lead Counsel, read out the contents of the email as Brooks gave evidence.
The email said:
"Hunt will be making reference to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon this week. He will be the same narrative as the one he gave in parliament a few weeks ago.
"This is based on his belief that the police are pursuing things thoroughly and phone hacking has nothing to do with its media plurality issue."
The internal News Corp. codename for its bid to take over BSkyB was "Rubicon".
The email goes on to say:
"JH is now starting to look into 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."
Michel has since said that "Hunt" and "JH" were used to mean the culture secretary's office and did not necessarily mean Hunt himself.
Hunt's special adviser, Adam Smith, was forced to resign after falling on his sword and admitting he shared more information with News Corporation than he should have done.
The Labour Party has previously called for Hunt to resign from the cabinet, accusing him of acting inappropriately as News Corp's "cheerleader" inside the government.
A spokesman for Hunt said the culture secretary would respond to the allegations when he gave his evidence to the Leveson inquiry.
"He is confident that his evidence will vindicate the position that he has behaved with integrity on every issue," the spokesman said.
“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.
“On 11 July 2011 Jeremy Hunt wrote to Ofcom for further advice about the impact of phone hacking on the BSkyB bid.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who has long pursued the phone hacking case, said the email was "damaging".
“It is extraordinary that even after the revelations of Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked, illegal payments to police officers and the subsequent cover-up, every senior member of the Conservative Party: Cameron, Osborne, Hague and May contacted Rebekah Brooks to secretly wish her well," he said.
“But the most damaging piece of evidence today was the email from Fred Michel to Rebekah Brooks that makes it clear that Jeremy Hunt and Number 10 colluded not just on the BSkyB deal but also over phone hacking.”
“Lord Justice Leveson has made it clear that he will not rule on the Ministerial Code; neither Hunt nor Cameron have any alibis left.”
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Email From Michel To Brooks:
Michel to Brooks: 27 June 2011 16:29
Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon this week.
He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in Parliament few weeks ago.
This is based on his belief that the police is pursing things thoroughly and phone hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issues.
It's extremely helpful.
On the issue of the privacy committee he supports a widening of its remit to the future of the press and evidence from all newspaper groups on the regulatory regime.
He wants to prevent a public inquiry. For this the committee will need to come up a strong report in the autumn and put enough pressure on the PCC to strength itself and take recommendations forward.
JH is now starting to looking 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…
Brooks to Michel: Jun 27 2011 17:30
When is the Rubicon statement?
Michel to Brooks: