Jonathan Stephens, Jeremy Hunt's Top Civil Servant, To Appear At Leveson Over News Corp Bid

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Jeremy Hunt is under pressure over his links to News Corporation | PA

A senior civil servant at the heart of the controversy over links between News Corporation and the office of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Friday.

Jonathan Stephens, the permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is certain to face questions over the contacts between Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith and News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel during the media company's sensitive bid for BSkyB.

Stephens was dragged into the row when Hunt repeatedly told MPs on that his top civil servant had "approved" the arrangements for maintaining a line of communication with News Corp at a time when the Culture Secretary had quasi-judicial oversight of the bid.

The permanent secretary repeatedly declined to say whether he had approved the arrangement when he subsequently appeared before the Commons Public Accounts Committee, instead saying in a later letter that he was "aware and content" of Smith's involvement.

Smith resigned over the matter, saying he "went too far" in his dealings with Michel. Smith and Michel will give evidence to Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards on Thursday.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK at the time, the PAC chair Margaret Hodge said Stephens' refusal to confirm Hunt's account of what happened suggested he did not want to be blamed.

"What he did today was let Jeremy Hunt hang out to dry," she told us earlier this month.

Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee on Wednesday afternoon, senior Tory MP Bernard Jenkin said it was "extraordinary" that Stephens did not stop Smith talking to News Corporation about a matter "as sensitive" as its bid for BSkyB.

"I have spoken to previous special advisers in the Department for Trade and Industry who told me they were never allowed in the room, or to see any papers, referring to a bid," the chair of the public administration committee said.

"How did this happen? We will want to know."

Ominously for David Cameron, Jenkin also suggested during his evidence to the House of Lords constitution committee that rather than answering to their secretaries of state, special advisers often acted on behalf of the prime minister.

"Special advisers seem to report to Number 10 though the special adviser network and they are spies in the camp of secretaries of state," he said.

"They are told not to allow their secretaries of state to have lunches with journalists unless they go as well."