Documents reveal News Corp lobbyist's contacts with senior government figures

Documents released by the Leveson Inquiry reveal the extent of News Corporation lobbyist Fred Michel's contacts with senior figures in Government.

The cache of emails and texts show Mr Michel was in regular contact with ministers and officials in Downing Street and Whitehall.

They include 67 texts sent between Mr Michel and the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt from June 21 2010 until July 3 2011, the period when News Corp was seeking to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Jeremy Hunt addressed Mr Michael as "daddy" and "mon ami" in dozens of text messages.

Fred Michel gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday
Fred Michel gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday

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

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

A month later, on July 15, Mr Michel, who is French, praised Mr 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 July 25, writing: "Full of energy and purpose on Andrew Marr! Liked your answer on Rupert and on BBC!"

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

In August 2010 the two men joked about the Culture Secretary's controversial decision to abolish the UK Film Council.

Mr Michel wrote, "Be strong! Even Clint Eastwood can't stop it", to which Mr Hunt replied, "If they play dirty harry so can I!"

The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt addressed exchanged friendly messages with News Corporation lobbyist Fred Michel Credit: Reuters

The documents also show that Mr Michel and the then Number 10 Director of Communications Andy Coulson exchanged 18 text messages between September and November 2010.

But the content of each of the messages was blacked out before their release by the Leveson team.

ndy Coulson
Documents show that Mr Michel and Andy Coulson exchanged 18 text messages between September and November 2010 Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning

It has been revealed that Mr Michel texted David Cameron's special adviser Gabby Bertin hours before the closure of the News of the World was announced last July

He wrote: "I do need to speak to you in 1 hour. very important. Our `last call'. Xx".

Ms Bertin responded at around 3pm: "Ok x". In a further text at 3.37pm - apparently after he had informed her of the impending closure by phone - she asked: "When u announcing it? X"

He replied at 3.38pm: "We have announced it internally now. Briefing media in next hour x"

The News Of The World editor, Colin Myler (FRONT L), poses with the staff of the newspaper the day before its planned closure
The News Of The World editor, Colin Myler (FRONT L), poses with the staff of the newspaper the day before its planned closure Credit: Reuters

There were 23 text messages which Mr Michel and Ms Bertin exchanged between January and July 2011, many of them signed off with one or more xs.

On January 17, after Mr Cameron used an interview on Radio 4's Today programme to resist calls for Mr Coulson to be sacked, Mr Michel texted Ms Bertin to say: "Good support for andy by the boss on R4. Good stuff. Keep the pressure guys ! XX""

On April 23, Mr Michel contacted her to check that "Rupert/James's summer party on 15th June is firmly in DC's diary?

And on May 10, he texted her, apparently about a meeting with Craig Oliver, telling her "Great chat with CrAig x", and later adding "He did ask me a lot about phone hacking..."

Fred Michel, a lobbyist who worked for BSkyB, walks out of the High Court where he was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry
Many texts between Fred Michel and David Cameron's special adviser Gabby Bertin were signed off with one or more 'x's. Credit: Reuters

Text messages also revealed Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was "furious" with his Cabinet colleague Vince Cable after the Business Secretary was caught out by undercover reporters saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

The row in December 2010 led to Mr Cable being stripped of responsibility for the decision on News Corporation's takeover of BSkyB - a role that went to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Vince Cable was caught by undercover reporters saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch's media empire
Vince Cable was caught by undercover reporters saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch's media empire Credit: Reuters

In a text to Mr Clegg's aide Lena Pietsch, Mr Michel said: "Cable's comments are amazing. Incredible. Fred"

Ms Pietsch responded: "Unacceptable. Nick furious obviously."

Mr Michel suggested that he was "not sure it's justifiable" for Mr Cable to remain the Cabinet, before later adding: "We are keeping calm and not inflaming things. Hope Nick OK X"

Making plans for a meeting in Davos, where politicians and business leaders gathered in January 2011, Ms Pietsch said Mr Clegg would be at a reception hosted by the Duke of York.

Mr Michel responded: "Most people of power and influence try to avoid Duke of York at all costs!"

Prince Andrew, Duke of York,
Mr Michel told Nick Clegg;s special aide Lena Pietsch: "Most people of power and influence try to avoid Duke of York at all costs!" Credit: Reuters

Mr Michel sent a text message to George Osborne's chief of staff Rupert Harrison on November 9 2010, asking him if the Chancellor could write to Mr Cable about the economic importance of News Corp's bid for BSkyB, and offering to "help with the content" of any letter.

Mr Michel sent a text message to George Osborne's chief of staff Rupert Harrison about the BSkyB bid
Mr Michel sent a text message to George Osborne's chief of staff Rupert Harrison about the BSkyB bid Credit: Reuters

The message came a day after Mr Michel and Mr Harrison had lunch together, and just days after Mr Cable had referred the bid to regulator Ofcom, to the annoyance of James Murdoch.

Mr Michel wrote:

"Rupert, just spoke with James.

It would be helpful if George were to send a letter to Vince on our Sky merger and its economic importance, separate from the Ofcom process. Do you think it is a possibility? I can of course help with the content. Best, fred"

Mr Harrison replied: "Will have to discuss with g when he's back from china. R"

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander Credit: Reuters

Later that day, Mr Michel was back in touch, apparently asking why Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was refusing to meet Mr Murdoch.

He wrote:

"Hi Rupert. Do you know why Danny is refusing to meet with James? Just got a categorical 'no'... Fred"

– Fred Michel

Mr Harrison replied: "Will try to find out in a roundabout way, but as you know they can be an unpredictable bunch...", to which Mr Michel answered: "Indeed mon ami!"