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Jeremy Hunt Row: Culture Secretary Faces 'Huge' Questions Following Leveson, Says Miliband

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Jeremy Hunt has come under increasing pressure after last week's Leveson revelations
Jeremy Hunt has come under increasing pressure after last week's Leveson revelations

David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt face "huge" questions over their handling of News Corporation's BSkyB takeover in the wake of the latest evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Saturday.

Ratcheting up the pressure on the Prime Minister and his beleaguered Culture Secretary, Mr Miliband said this week's disclosures provided "yet more" evidence that Mr Hunt should not have been given responsibility for the deal.

He cited, in particular, the publication of a memo in which Hunt made private representations to Cameron supporting News Corp's bid to take full control of BSkyB.

The document, sent just weeks before Hunt was given quasi-judicial oversight of the bid, expressed concerns that referring the bid to Ofcom could leave the Government "on the wrong side of media policy".

Miliband, speaking in Afghanistan where he has been visiting British troops and holding talks with President Hamid Karzai, said: "From what I have seen from the material I have read on this, I think we have got yet more evidence that Jeremy Hunt wasn't the right person to be taking forward the decision about the BSkyB bid.

"He wrote a memo to the Prime Minister for the bid four weeks or so before taking charge of it and I think it really calls into question David Cameron's judgment about why he appointed him in the first place to take over this bid.

"Here is somebody who was an advocate within Government for the bid, so there are huge questions for David Cameron to answer.

"And there are yet more questions for Jeremy Hunt to answer. I mean, why did he tell the House of Commons that he wasn't intervening in this issue when he wasn't responsible for it when, in fact, he was?

"There are just a whole series of mounting questions and we do need answers."

Hunt is also facing embarrassment over disclosures about his personal dealings with News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel, whom he addressed as "daddy" and "mon ami" in dozens of jokey and intimate text messages.

In exchanges released by the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, Mr Michel responded with flattering comments about the Culture Secretary's "stamina" and "great" performances in TV interviews and the Commons.

Hunt also assured Michel, then European director of public affairs for Rupert Murdoch's media empire, there was "nothing u won't like" in an upcoming speech.

The Leveson Inquiry yesterday released 67 texts sent between the two men from June 21 2010 until 3 July 2011, the period when News Corp was seeking to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Michel and Hunt, whose wives both gave birth at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in late May 2010, regularly swapped updates about their young children.

On 21 June 2010 the Culture Secretary texted the lobbyist: "Baby fine just changed his nappy lucky daddy!"

A month later, on 15 July, Michel, who is French, praised Hunt on a "great announcement", to which the Minister replied: "Merci papa (Thank you daddy)."

The lobbyist praised the Culture Secretary's appearance on a Sunday morning TV show on 25 July, writing: "Full of energy and purpose on Andrew Marr! Liked your answer on Rupert and on BBC!"

Hunt responded: "Merci mon ami (Thank you my friend)."

The Culture Secretary is to appear before the Leveson Inquiry himself next Thursday when he will have the opportunity to defend himself from criticism that he got too close to News Corp.

Cameron yesterday defended giving Hunt responsibility for the decision on News Corporation's takeover of BSkyB.

"I don't regret giving the job to Jeremy Hunt, it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, which were not of my making," he said.

Hunt was given the role after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of the responsibility over comments made to undercover reporters.

The Prime Minster told ITV's This Morning: "The crucial point, the really crucial point, is did Jeremy Hunt carry out his role properly with respect to BSkyB and I believe that he did."