Leveson inquiry: Frédéric Michel, Adam Smith - live

Leveson inquiry: Frdric Michel, Adam Smith - live
Leveson inquiry: Frdric Michel, Adam Smith - live
Leveson inquiry: Frdric Michel, Adam Smith - live
Leveson inquiry: Frdric Michel, Adam Smith - live
Leveson inquiry: Frdric Michel, Adam Smith - live
Leveson inquiry: Frdric Michel, Adam Smith - live

• Michel: Smith gave updates on timings, process of Sky bid
• Michel denies he exaggerated DCMS position to Murdoch
• Hunt adviser sent 257 texts to News Corp lobbyist
• Over 1,000 texts between News Corp and DCMS over Sky bid
• Michel: 'I apologise if my texts are too jokey sometimes'

1.47pm: Lisa O'Carroll's story on Michel's evidence so far is now live. Lisa writes:

Jeremy Hunt had indicated to News Corporation by the end of 2010 that he was "probably in favour" of arguments for allowing its £8bn BSkyB takeover, the company's lobbyist responsible for contact with the culture secretary's department has told the Leveson inquiry.

Frédéric Michel told the Leveson inquiry on Thursday that by December 2010, just before Hunt was given quasi-judicial responsibility for the bid, the Conservative cabinet minister and his Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) were supportive of News Corp's argument that the BSkyB deal would not be detrimental to UK media plurality.

Michel was asked by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, whether the DCMS was considered by News Corp to be "on side" in terms of being in favour of the Sky bid by December 2010.

"I think they were probably in favour of, or in agreement with, the arguments we had put forward in terms of plurality, definitely," replied Michel, who at the time was News Corp's European head of public affairs.

You can read the full story here.

1.13pm: The Guardian's Lisa O'Carroll has sent us this transcript of text messages between Michel and Hunt as seen at the Leveson inquiry.

Michel to Hunt:
20 January 2011
20.54
Great to see you today. We should get little [children's names redacted] together in the future to socialise. Nearly born the same day at the same place!
Warm regards
Fred

Hunt to Michel:
20 January 2011
23.45
Good to see you too. hope u understand why we have to have the long process. Let's meet up when things are resolved. J.

Michel to Hunt:
20 January 2011
6.58am
"We do, and we'll do our very best to be constructive and helpful throughout. You were very impressive yesterday. "

Michel to Hunt:
13 March 2011
Very good on Marr as always.

Hunt to Michel:
13 March 2011
Merci. Hopefully when consultation over we can have a coffee like the old days.

1.07pm: Here is a lunchtime summary of the key evidence heard by the Leveson inquiry today:

• Jeremy Hunt's department and News Corporation exchanged more than 1,000 text messages during the controversial BSkyB takeover bid.

• Hunt's adviser, Adam Smith, sent 257 text messages, plus a string of emails from his personal account, to News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel.

• Michel believed Hunt was "probably in favour" of News Corp's £8bn BSkyB bid by December 2010.

• Michel denied he was given "running commentary" on the bid by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

1.05pm: The Guardian's deputy editor, Ian Katz, has just tweeted:

and

1.03pm: The inquiry has broken for lunch and will resume at 2pm.

1.00pm: Michel says in another email to Murdoch that Hunt had met Ed Richards, the Ofcom chief executive, and challenged him over the regulator's issues letter about the bid.

Jay says Michel spoke to Smith three times on the day Hunt had a critical private meeting with the Ofcom boss. The conversation lasted for 27 minutes.

Michel interpreted Smith's view as encouraging News Corp to find legal flaws in Ofcom's report.

"On this particular subject of the Ofcom report you could say he was probably agreeing with me on areas where we could justifiably find some criticism," he says.

12.55pm: Jay asks about an email he sent to James Murdoch on 31 December 2010 stating:

Got a debrief from DCMS on their short meeting with OFT and Ofcom this morning.

The details of the remedy were not discussed. OFT mentioned to JH they were meeting us this aftemoon.

The conversation was solely on how they can set a process and timetable; but also on whether they can both work together [!].

JH asked them to adhere to the timing set out in the terms of reference, Le. 2 weeks.

12.54pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

12.52pm: Jay asks if the texts were "schmoozing".

"No, it's a friendly text," replies Michel. "I think it's one text every three months."

12.52pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

12.51pm: Michel sent Hunt a text congratulating the culture secretary on his performance in the House of Commons.

"Merci! Large drink tonight," replied Hunt.

In another message, Michel says "Very good on Marr as always".

"Merci," replies Hunt, again.

12.50pm: Michel says the DCMS had an approach "based on transparency" compared to Cable's department.

News Corp lawyers were aware of Michel's level of correspondence with Smith, he confirms.

12.45pm: Michel denies that Smith have him a running commentary on the bid, but did give him "atmospherics" of the takeover as well as updates on timing.

12.45pm: Michel says he was not surprised at Cable's secretly-recorded remarks about "declaring war on Murdoch" because they were "very much" in line with what he already believed about the business secretary's views.

12.42pm: Jay turns to correspondence between Michel and Rohan Silva, a senior adviser to prime minister David Cameron.

Cameron wanted to see media plurality, Silva told Michel, and in a meeting between the pair Michel mentioned the plurality issues around the BSkyB bid, the inquiry hears.

Michel met Silva and Cameron's adviser, Steve Hilton, in No 10 on 10 December 2010.

12.41pm: The Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has just tweeted:

12.37pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

12.36pm: Jay suggests Michel was frustrated because Cable's department would not allow him to trade text messages with them, which he was "very good" at.

Michel responds: "I am a compulsive texter, I will accept."

12.36pm: Michel says that Hunt's department took a "very different approach" when the culture secretary was given responsibility for the bid.

When the bid switched to DCMS there was "much more openness" about hearing News Corp's arguments, he adds.

12.35pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

12.33pm: Michel tried again to meet Cable's special adviser, says Jay, but was once against rebuffed.

He believed that this deserved to be "tested" and asked News Corp lawyers whether they should be allowed to lobby Cable and his special adviser.

12.29pm: Michel says: "If anyone from Hunt's office thought this inappropriate they would have told me. It's not for me to say how Hunt's office should work."

Jay turns to a meeting between Michel and George Osborne's special adviser, Rupert Harrison. It was rushed but Harrison told Michel there were "coalition tensions" around the bid, the inquiry hears.

12.27pm: Michel says that in Cable's department there was "definitely a view that no representation would be taken" on the BSkyB bid.

Jay suggests that was different with DCMS and that the conversations turned "clandestine". Michel contends that it was "advocacy".

Michel says there are a lot of lessons to learn from this process and that he can understand Jay's argument.

12.24pm: The Guardian's Lisa O'Carroll has sent us emails flashed up on screens at the Leveson inquiry containing the assertion that Hunt found News Corp's arguments for a successful BSkyB were "persuasive".

EMAIL ONE: MICHEL TO SMITH OCT 7, 2010

From: Michel
To: Smith
Date: Thursday 7, Oct 2010
Time: 16.11

Adam,
Hope you're well.
As promised in Birmingham, attached briefing memo for Jeremy on the transaction, including Sky News audience shares.
I hope it's helpful. Let me know if he needs more info
I will keep you aware re timing
Warm regards
Fred

EMAIL TWO - MICHEL TO SMITH

To: Michel
From: Smith
Date: Friday 8, Oct, 2010

Attached briefing on competition issues around the transaction as well

EMAIL THREE: SMITH TO HUNT

From Adam Smith
To: Fred Michel
Re: Confidential - Urgent
Date : Monday 11/10/2010 7.02am

Jeremy's response to this - 'persuasive'

12.24pm: Jay resumes his questioning about Michel's contact with Cable's department.

In one message, Michel was told by one of Cable's advisers that a meeting was completely off-limits because it was highly sensitive.

Jay asks whether he found it strange that DCMS's stance was more open.

"No, I thought DCMS's stance was more normal," Michel says.

12.13pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

12.12pm: The inquiry is now taking a short break.

12.10pm: Jay turns to Michel's dealings with Vince Cable's department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Michel says that in September and October 2010, many Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians were telling him that phone hacking would be a problem.

12.08pm: The Guardian deputy editor, Ian Katz, has just tweeted:

and

12.07pm: Jay turns to correspondence recently passed to the inquiry.

On 7 October 2010, Michel sent a confidential email containing commercially-sensitive information to Smith (Jay says Smith had two email accounts but Michel denies he saw any difference between them). Smith replied saying he had passed the information on to Jeremy.

The following day, Michel sent Smith a briefing note on media plurality issues. Smith replied on 11 October 2010 saying "Jeremy's response to this persuasive".

Jay asks if this was suitable reassurance.?

"There is two items: the plurality side and competition side. On the plurality side it was definitely something the UK was focusing on. The competition side was being focused on in Brussels," Michel says.

Jay asks whether Michel had the same correspondence with other departments.

Michel says he only did it with the DCMS and BIS.

12.03pm: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

and

12.03pm: Michel and Smith had a 22-minute phone conversation after Ofcom released its "issues letter" on the bid.

Michel later wrote from this conversation that Hunt was supportive of the bid and suprised at Ofcom's stance.

12.00pm: As Jay leads Michel through the trail of correspondence, the counsel indicates that Smith will later repeatedly deny Michel's interpretation of their conversations.

Jay asks again if Michel believed Hunt was supportive of the bid.

Michel replies:

My view is that Jeremy Hunt was probably supportive of some of the arguments we were putting forward and he has made that public on the plurality [issue].

In another email, Michel says: "Jeremy has also asked me to send him relevant documents privately".

He tells Jay that he meant "directly" rather than "privately".

11.55am: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

11.55am: Michel denies exaggerating Smith's comments about government support for the BSkyB bid, saying: "I don't need to puff myself up."

As Jay turns to another email to Murdoch, Michel denies again that he exaggerated what he was being told by Smith.

11.54am: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

11.52am: Michel says his conversations with Smith were to "check on an ongoing basis the temperature in Westminster".

"Precisely," says Jay, before moving on.

11.50am: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

and

and

11.50am: Jay asks whether he exaggerated that text conversation with Hunt in a memo to Murdoch.

Michel denies he exaggerated the conversation, but says he put his own interpretation on it.

11.46am: On 24 December 2010, Michel text Hunt to say James Murdoch asked him to be the point of contact for the culture secretary and Smith. Michel says in the text "glad John Zeff is in charge of dossier".

Hunt replied to say: "All contact with me now needs to be through official channels until decision made."

Michel says he took this to mean Hunt's office was his official channel.

He adds that he stopped having contact with Hunt "except for a few private contacts during the day".

11.44am: Jay says it is clear that Michel was working with Smith to send Hunt "helpful arguments" relating to the BSkyB bid.

Hunt replied: "Pleasure".

Michel says he does not know if these arguments were about the BSkyB bid.

11.40am: Jay raises a memo from 15 November 2010 to Michel which explained that Hunt was unable to meet James Murdoch. The memo says: "Jeremy's very frustrated about it but the permanent secretary has also now been involved."

Michel confirms that this message was from Smith, Hunt's special adviser, who suggested Murdoch and the culture secretary have a private conversation by mobile phone.

11.38am: In October 2010, Michel asked Hunt if he will see News Corp"s arguments for Sky bid. Hunt later texts back to say this is "persuasive".

Jay says these exchanges between Hunt and Michel showed that the culture minister was "reasonably favourably disposed to the bid".

Michel replies he would not have drawn that conclusion.

11.35am: Jay turns to text messages sent by Michel between June 2010 and December 2010.

On 27 August 2010, Michel sent a text message to Hunt about a speech by BBC director general Mark Thompson. Hunt replied: "Thanks. I agree, nothing about BBC role in competitive market". Michel described Thompson's speech as "a whimper" in a follow-up text. Hunt replied: "Because he trained his guns on you he failed to make his case to me".

These text messages were in response to Thompson's MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh, in which he warned that BSkyB was too powerful and threatened to "dwarf" the BBC and its competitors.

11.34am: The Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has just tweeted:

11.31am: Jay asks whether Michel exaggerated Smith's position in his emails to James Murdoch.

Michel says his emails were "accurate accounts of the conversations" but adds: "Maybe I was trying to keep the morale up internally" because News Corp was facing closed doors from other government departments.

He does not agree that he spun the emails to put himself in a good light.

"It was a very few, rare occasions where this happens," he says.

11.30am: Michel describes Smith was "very straightforward" and available to him.

Jay asks whether he believed Hunt was in favour of the BSkyB bid.

"It's something I can't say," Michel answers. He believed that Hunt was acting impartially over the takeover.

11.26am: Jay says that there were 191 telephone calls, 158 emails, and 799 text messages between Michel and the DCMS, of which 90% were with Smith. Between 28 November 2011 and 11 July 2011 Smith sent 257 text messages to Michel, Jay adds.

Michel says he did not have any reason to believe Smith was or was not in favour of the BSkyB bid.

11.25am: The Guardian-editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has just tweeted:

11.24am: Michel says he believed that special advisers always represented the views of their boss, the secretary of state.

He believed some of the information from Adam Smith came after the special adviser's conversations with Hunt.

"There was two or three events where I had the impression some of the feedback I was given was discussed with the secretary of state before it was given to me."

11.22am: Michel's first witnes statement has now been published on the Leveson inquiry website.

11.21am: Michel is asked why he did not make clear in emails to James Murdoch that "JH" did not mean conversations with Hunt himself.

He explains:

I think it's a shorthand I decided to use, both because I was having a lot of conversations at the beginning of January with the office of the secretary of state and I was trying to be as quick as I could when writing those.

Michel traded "less than five" messages with John Zeff, Hunt's head of media, the inquiry hears.

11.20am: Michel says there were no conversations with Hunt between 24 December 2010 and the end of July 2011, but there were texts with Hunt.

11.19am: Michel is asked why he lobbied other government departments outside Cable's before December 2010.

He says that News Corp was not given much chance to make representations to Cable "even though we tried".

Jay asks whether he hoped another government department might be able to influence Cable.

Michel says other departments were "very interested in hearing our case" because they wanted a debrief on the complex issues and undertakings involved in the takeover.

11.17am: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

11.16am: Michel says he did not believe it was inappropriate to lobby the office of the secretary of state.

"I was never of the view that it was inappropriate to at least try put the view or make representation to his office," he adds.

Jay asks why, then, he used "JH" as referring to Hunt's team in his emails to James Murdoch.

"I don't think anything inappropriate ever took place," he says.

11.15am: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

11.12am: The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:

11.12am: The Guardian's Lisa O'Carroll has just tweeted:

11.11am: The Guardian deputy editor, Ian Katz, has just tweted:

11.10am: Michel is pressed on when he first knew about News Corp's £8bn bid for BSkyB.

He says there were internal discussions and reports in the media from when he joined in May 2009, but that he was formally told the day before it was publicly announced.

He adds that he did not have a specific view on which government ministers would and would not be in favour of the bid. He was tasked to discover what government ministers – including business secretary Vince Cable – thought of the bid.

11.07am: Michel says he was only aware News Corp was launching a bid for full control of BSkyB the day before it was publicly announced. He adds that he was not in the "circle of confidence" that knew in advance.

In his witness statement, Michel says his only contact with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was "solely with Mr Hunt's adviser Adam Smith and the (DCMS) director of media Jon Zeff," according to the Evening Standard reporter Tom Harper at the court:

11.04am: Michel joined News Corp as director of public affairs for Europe in May 2009.

He says News Corp's BSkyB bid "became a very full job" from September 2010 and increased "further and further" throughout the process. It took up 80% of his time, he adds.

11.02am: The inquiry has resumed and News Corporation lobbyist Frédéric Michel takes the witness stand.

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, is leading the questioning.

11.01am: Sky News reporter Martin Brunt has just tweeted:

10.57am: The Guardian's Maya Wolfe-Robinson has just tweeted:

10.56am: Brooke has completed his evidence and the inquiry is taking a short break.

10.55am: Brooke is asked what functions he believes the reconstituted press regulator should have.

He says: "I wouldn't want to do a big bang," and advises that the powers of the new regulator be increased over time instead of all at once.

Leveson asks when there be this appetite for change.

Brooke says a "big bang" change to press regulation "needs a big person to do it".

10.50am: You can watch today's hearing live on the Leveson inquiry website here.

10.48am: Brooke says it is a "great pity" the government and press was not able to reach an agreement and move forward.

The government might have been able to sleep better at night because it had not crossed the Rubicon, but it might have been better if had, says Brooke.

10.47am: The Guardian's Josh Halliday has just tweeted about the Trimingham case:

and

10.42am: Brooke is asked whether he was lobbied by the press in this period.

He says he cannot recall any lobbying over press regulation between 1992 and 1994.

10.42am: Brooke says he was effectively being asked by the then prime minister, John Major, to take the white paper back to the drawing board.

Later, in June 1994, the then home secretary proposed that the white paper could be published without the contested draft clauses.

10.41am: The Guardian's Josh Halliday has just tweeted about the Trimingham case:

10.38am: No 10 wrote to Brooke to recommend continuing pressure to improve self-regulation but asked that a white paper be redrafted featuring arguments against it, the inquiry hears.

10.34am: Lord Wakeham was instrumental in incorporating a privacy tort into the Press Complaints Commission code, says Brooke.

10.29am: Brooke is asked whether the government believed the Press Complaints Commission, when established, would be a regulator.

He replies: "We believed it would be a self-regulator".

Lord Justice Leveson presses Brooke on what he understood by "self-regulator".

Brooke says "he would not go to the stake for the phrase," indicating that the government was not entirely sure of the self-regulatory function.

10.23am: Sky News has just tweeted about the Trimingham case:

10.22am: Brooke says it is correct that the government gave the press one more chance to avoid regulation after the 1993 Calcutt report.

He describes further proposals suggested by the MP Clive Soley as "draconian".

10.19am: Calcutt's report on the press was leaked so the government had to bring forward its response, says Brooke.

His 1993 Review of Press Self-Regulation reiterated the potential need for a statutory press tribunal, as well as sterner laws to protect privacy.

Brooke says in his witness statement that the government was "extremely reluctant" to introduce statutory regulation of the press.

He adds:

The press has been not subject to statutory interference since 1695. The first time it happens is going to be a very significant event.

10.17am: Elsewhere at the high court, BBC political correspondent Carole Walker has just tweeted about a privacy case involving Chris Huhne's partner Carina Trimingham:

10.15am: Brooke was the national heritage secretary between 1992 and 1994, replacing David Mellor in the post.

Barr asks whether the press exacted revenge on Mellor because he appointed Sir David Calcutt to review self-regulation of the press.

Brooke cannot remember having any conversations about that at the time.

10.07am:Lord Brooke, the former national heritage secretary, has taken the stand.

David Barr, junior counsel to the inquiry, is questioning Brooke.

10.05am: The Guardian's John Plunkett has sent us breaking goat news from the steps of the high court. No kidding: that is a real goat.

9.58am: The Guardian's Esther Addley has just tweeted from the high court:

9.51am: Good morning and welcome to the Leveson inquiry live blog.

All eyes will be on the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt today as his former special adviser, Adam Smith, and the News Corporation lobbyist, Frédéric Michel, give evidence about their role in News Corp's abandoned £8bn bid for BSkyB.

It will be the first time the pair have spoken publicly since the huge row over Hunt's handling of the bid erupted at the end of April.

Smith resigned on 26 April after he admitted he allowed the impression to be created of too close a relationship between News Corp and Hunt's Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

More than 160 pages of emails published at the Leveson inquiry showed that News Corp's Michel was given inside information on ministerial thinking over the company's bid for BSkyB, including handing over commercially confidential information and repeatedly suggesting that Hunt wanted the bid to succeed.

Smith will be pressed on whether he was a rogue operator acting without the authority of Hunt and other senior colleagues in the department. Jonathan Stephens, the department's top civil servant, will give evidence on Friday and Hunt is expected to be called in the coming weeks.

The pair will appear after evidence from Lord Brooke, the Tory cabinet minister between 1989 and 1994. Brooke was the national heritage secretary from 1992 to 1994 in a department later renamed Department for Culture, Media and Sport; he was the Northern Ireland secretary between 1989 and 1992.

The inquiry begins at 10am.

Please note that comments have been switched off for legal reasons.


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