The three charges of conspiring to obstruct the course of justice brought against Rebekah Brooks on Tuesday, May 15, have pushed into the spotlight the lapses of ministers who were friendly with her and say they are transparent in dealings influencing the governance of the UK.
Evidence to the Leveson Inquiry revealed Chancellor George Osborne failed to declare that his government residence was the venue for a weekend social in September 2010 attended by, among others, Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie. Mrs Brooks was head of News International at the time.
The event took place while News International’s parent company, News Corp, was petitioning government minister Jeremy Hunt to allow its bid for a 100 per cent takeover of BSkyB.
Opposition Deputy Leader Harriet Harman said recently, “When senior members of a government are looking at a bid such as the BSkyB one, they have not only to make sure they act impartially but that they are seen to be acting impartially.
“Spending a weekend together with a senior executive of the company seeking approval for a bid such as this is not acting in a way that will be seen to be impartial.”
The omission came to light from a statement given to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics by Andy Coulson on Thursday, May 10. He attended the social event with his wife.
Mr Coulson was director of communications for the Conservative Party. Both he and Mrs Brooks had worked as chief editors on Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, which was a viable and popular Sunday paper at the time of the event.
Although the Chancellor’s Office has laid out three meetings between Mr Osborne and Mrs Brooks after the Conservatives formed a government in May 2010, it was not made clear that this social event was held in Dormeywood, a government building.
Dormeywood is a mansion in extensive grounds in rural Buckinghamshire that is provided by the state to support chancellors in their work. It has similar status to an embassy where a government official may live.
A meeting between Mr Osborne and the Brookses listed by the Chancellor’s Office took place in a restaurant in December 2010. Mrs Brooks told the Inquiry on May 11 that she discussed the written response of Ofcom to News Corp’s BSkyB bid.
Ofcom is the UK arbitrator of the communications industry. It is independent of government and regulates competition for broadcasting and the internet.
Mrs Brooks wrote an email the next day to Fred Michel, the News Corp lobbyist who had been conducting detailed email correspondence about the BSkyB bid with Jeremy Hunt’s Culture, Media and Sports office. She said Mr Osborne was “baffled” by Ofcom’s reply.
The dinner was meant to be social with Mr Osborne eating with his wife, the Brookses, and another couple.
News Corp’s plan to buy all remaining shares of BSkyB had been made known in June 2010.
In her evidence, Mrs Brooks said she had discussed the BSkyB deal briefly with Mr Osborne at the September stopover in Dormeywood.
Read on … She described meetings and texts with Mr Cameron