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Permanent Secretary dodges questions on News International

Jonathan Stephens, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Photo:

Five times in the House of Commons yesterday the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told MPs that the Permanent Secretary (the most senior civil servant) at his Department approved the arrangements for the dealings with the Murdochs over their planned takeover of BSkyB.

Twelve times in the Public Accounts Committee this morning , the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport himself refuses to answer questions about whether he DID approve those arrangements - namely that Adam Smith, Mr Hunt's special adviser who resigned yesterday, could liaise with News International.

In a classic piece of "Sir Humphrey" action, Jonathan Stephens finds himself unable to answer the question put to him by MPs.

Instead he refers back to the statements issued by Adam Smith yesterday and throws ahead to the appearance at the Leveson Inquiry of the Secretary of State himself.

Mr Stephens had not arrived at the Committee to answer questions about the Murdoch takeover. He had turned up to be questioned on the £9.3 billion cost of the London Olypmpics.

That said, his Department is very much in the news this week, and it might have been wise had he been prepared to give a more fulfilling answer about the role of the special adviser and his boss.

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