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Jeremy Hunt defends his 'scrupulous' handling of BSkyB bid

The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt giving his statement to the House of Commons Photo: PA Wire

The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today defended his handling of the BSkyB bid saying that he has behaved "scrupulously fairly" throughout the process.

Mr Hunt's neutrality over the bid has been called into question after emails and texts released to the Leveson Inquiry suggested that staff News Corp were in regular contact with his aides, in particular his special adviser Adam Smith.

ITV News' political correspondent Libby Wiener reports:

Senior Political Correspondent Chris Ship reports on the day's developments at Westminster.

Earlier today, Mr Hunt gave a statement to the House of Commons in which he admitted that the tone and volume of correspondence was inappropriate, but he said that it was "categorically not the case" that there had been a back channel of communication.

He also said that he had spoken to independent regulators at every stage of the bidding process to ensure that he remained politically neutral.

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons that the Culture Secretary had "my full support for the excellent job that he does".

Labour MPs accused the Culture Secretary of using his special adviser Adam Smith as a "human shield" to deflect demands for his own resignation.

Mr Smith resigned after admitting that he had "gone too far" in his contacts with News Corp executive Fred Michel to discuss the company's bid to take over BSkyB.

While it was part of my role to keep News Corporation informed throughout the BskyB bid process, the content and extent of my contact was done without authorisation from the Secretary of State. I do not recognise all of what Fred Michel said, but nonetheless I appreciate that my activities at times went too far...Whilst I firmly believe that the process was in fact conducted scrupulously fairly, as a result of my activities it is only right for me to step down as special adviser to Jeremy Hunt.

Labour MP Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) said: "Now that your adviser has lost his job, doesn't it prove the theory that when posh boys are in trouble, they sack the servants?"

Mr Hunt warned his political opponents against "jumping on the political bandwagon" at a premature stage in the Leveson Inquiry, arguing that there was more evidence to hear.

Lord Justice Leveson echoed the same point, telling the inquiry: "I am acutely aware from considerable experience that documents such as these cannot always be taken at face value, and can frequently bear more than one interpretation."

Jeremy Hunt leaves his office in central for the House of Commons in Westminster today Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Intense attention will now focus on the precise role taken by the "spad" in the BSkyB process, and the extent to which Mr Hunt was aware of his activities or sanctioned them.

Spads are a key part of any Secretary of State's team - political appointees who are employed as civil servants but are free from the civil service requirement to show impartiality and objectivity.

This enables them to provide political advice and to liaise with the party, media and other outside organisations on behalf of the minister.

The Culture Secretary told the Commons that he had authorised Mr Smith to be "a point of contact between my department and News Corporation", but was not aware of the extent and tone of his communications with Mr Michel.

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