Leveson to hear from serving Cabinet ministers

Leveson to hear from serving Cabinet ministers

Conservatives Michael Gove and Theresa May will today become the first serving Cabinet ministers to give evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

Mr Gove faces questioning about his relationship with Rupert and James Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

The Education Secretary, a former journalist on The Times, recorded 11 meetings with senior News Corp figures between the May 2010 general election and July 2011, and has publicly described Rupert Murdoch as “a great man” and “a force of nature”.

Earlier this year he spoke out about the danger of freedom of speech being harmed by the “chilling atmosphere” created by the Leveson Inquiry. Questioning the need for additional regulation of the press, he cautioned against allowing “judges, celebrities and the establishment” to become the arbiters of where the limits of free speech should be set.

Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to be quizzed about the police handling of phone-hacking allegations and the closeness between the police and the media.

They are the latest witnesses in a high-profile week for the Leveson Inquiry that will see embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt give evidence on Thursday over his links with the Murdoch empire.

Tony Blair, who became godfather to Mr Murdoch’s daughter Grace in 2010, told the inquiry yesterday that he had never struck a deal with Mr Murdoch or changed policy under pressure from him.

Defending his relationship with the media mogul, he insisted they had only become close friends in the last five years.

His evidence was interrupted by a protester who burst into courtroom 73 from a secure corridor and accused Mr Blair of being a war criminal. The former Labour leader remained composed as the man was led off by security guards and the session continued.

During his decade in office Mr Blair said he simply had a “working relationship” with Mr Murdoch.

Mr Blair said: “I know Rupert Murdoch and his family far better today than I did when I was Prime Minister. I would never have become godfather to their child on the basis of my relationship in government where meetings with Rupert Murdoch tended to be very much politics-oriented and I knew the rest of the family only a little at that time.”

He added: “It was a relationship about power. I find these relationships are not personal, they are working, to me.”

Mr Blair said he had probably been closer to Ms Brooks too once he had left office “when we were free from the constraints and it wasn’t a relationship about the power relationship”.

He defended his decision to send her a message of support after the phone-hacking scandal erupted last summer, saying he was “not a fair-weather friend”.

He told the hearing: “Certainly I said I was very sorry for what had happened to her ... I’ve seen people go through this situation and I know what it’s like.”

Mr Blair insisted he never agreed to any pact with any media organisation.

“There was no deal on issues to do with the media with Rupert Murdoch or indeed anybody else, either expressed or implied and, to be fair, he never sought such a thing.”

He said: “When it came to the specific issue in relation to the Murdoch media group, we more often decided against them than in favour.

“Rupert Murdoch never lobbied me for special favours. What he did do was argue strongly with me about politics. He has decided views. On some issues I agreed and on some I disagree.”

He never changed his policies to please the Murdoch press, he insisted, and had stuck to what he believed in on issues ranging from the trade unions to Europe.

“I don’t know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch,” he said.

Mr Blair told the inquiry once the press turned against him it was “full-frontal, day in, day out, basically a lifetime commitment”.

He told how wife Cherie was subjected to a “personal vendetta”, claiming that while some comment was “legitimate”, at times the criticism was taken “too far”.

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