Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry in this morning’s session, NewsCorp senior vice-president of government affairs and public policy for Europe Frederic Michel revealed that ‘my view is that Jeremy Hunt was probably supportive on some of the arguments’.
It was revealed that Michel - who admitted he is a ‘compulsive texter’ - made 191 calls, 158 emails and 799 texts to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport over the bid – 90% of which were with Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith.
However, Michel also denied that meetings and texts with Smith were ‘clandestine’, adding: ‘If anyone had thought it was inappropriate they would have told me… it’s not for me to say how secretaries of state should work’.
Michel said that he appreciated that ‘it was not appropriate to have discussion with the Secretary of State unless it was formal or mentored’. However, he added that he did not believe that this rule applied to the Secretary of State’s special advisers or civil servants, stating: ‘I was never of the view that it was inappropriate to put the argument to his officers.’
Meetings with George Osborne’s chief of staff Rupert Harrison and former Downing Street director of strategy Steve Hilton were also discussed.
Michel revealed that around 80% of his time was committed to the bid from September 2010 onwards. However, he claimed that he was not party to the decision to make the bid until the day before it was announced, on 15 June 2010, as he was not part of the ‘small confidentiality club preparing the bid’.
He also denied that the decision to raise the bid one month after the general election of May 2010 was influential.
During the hearing, Michel was continuously forced to deny that he had exaggerated to his colleagues about the level of openness of the Government.
It was revealed that Hunt had warned Michel to go through official channels when dealing with his department, after which Michel informed his colleagues that Hunt is ‘very happy for me to be the point of contact with Adam [Smith]’
When accused of attempting to ‘puff himself up’ to his colleagues, Michel responded: ‘I didn’t need to puff myself up’.