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British PM sent 'indirect' sympathy to Brooks

The former News executive fronts the Leveson Inquiry, saying David Cameron was one of several politicians who sent her messages of commiseration.

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Prime Minister David Cameron signed texts to Rebekah Brooks LOL, which he thought meant “lots of love”, Mrs Brooks, a former chief executive of News International, told the Leveson inquiry into the press.

She said they would each text each other “on occasion”. She told him LOL actually meant “laugh out loud” and he stopped using it, she said.

Mrs Brooks said she received messages of sympathy “mostly indirectly” from Mr Cameron and chancellor George Osborn when she resigned over the phone hacking scandal.

Rebekah Brooks ... close ties with David Cameron.

Rebekah Brooks ... close ties with David Cameron. Photo: Reuters

Asked if she had received a message from Mr Cameron to “keep your head up”, she said she did get a message “along those lines. I don’t think those were the exact words. But it was indirect. It wasn’t a direct text message”.

She also agreed Mr Cameron had apologized that he could not be more loyal to her because opposition leader Ed Miliband had him on the run: “Similar [wording], but again very indirectly.”

But Mrs Brooks denied that politicians had wanted to be close to her in order to get close to her employer, media magnate Rupert Murdoch: “It’s not true.”

The inquiry also heard of an email from British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is now at the centre of a storm over whether he was privately pro-Murdoch during News Corp's bid to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB. The email, written by News Corp public affairs chief Frederic Michel, claimed Mr Hunt wanted the company's "guidance" on how he and the Prime Minister should be positioning themselves over the growing phone-hacking scandal.

The email said, "JH [which could refer either to Mr Hunt or to his special adviser] is now starting to looking [sic] to phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and Number 10's positioning...."

Under questioning from Robert Jay, QC, Mrs Brooks denied that she had threatened the government when the Sun launched a campaign to get a police review of the case of missing child Madeleine McCann.

She denied that she had told Mr Cameron that if the review were not established, she would put Home Secretary Theresa May on the front page of the Sun every day until the paper’s demand was met.

“I didn’t say that to the Prime Minister,” she said. She was part of the paper’s launch of a campaign for a police review but said the word “threat” was too strong; she wanted to “persuade” the government.

Mrs Brooks said she had seen Mr and Mrs Cameron at a Boxing Day party at her sister-in-law’s in 2010 but had not spoken to them and News Corp’s bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB was not discussed.

But she did informally lobby politicians including Mr Osborn over the bid, she said, expressing News Corp’s “frustration” over opposition to the takeover.  “I think it was an entirely appropriate conversation.”

She said Mr Cameron had always made it clear that the quasi-judicial process of deciding whether the bid was appropriate was not up to him: “He was always very even-handed about it.”

Mrs Brooks was questioned under oath for five hours about her relationships with politicians during her years as CEO and as editor of two of the company’s newspapers, the Sun and the News of the World. 

Mrs Brooks was not questioned about phone hacking or bribery allegations because she was arrested last July on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemail messages and corruption. She was arrested again in March over allegations of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

As a result of this, the Leveson inquiry will not ask her about illicit practices at News International to avoid prejudicing police investigations and any future trials.

Asked about her relationship with Rupert Murdoch, she said they agreed on most big issues but differed over some, and that she had favored celebrity stories more than he did.

Mr Jay asked Mrs Brooks about the closeness of their relationship,  including claims that she used to swim with him when he was in London, and that he had sent a dress to a police station when she was arrested over an alleged assault of her ex-husband in 2005.

She said both claims were untrue _ “You need better sources, Mr Jay” _ but agreed that her surprise 40th birthday party had been held at Mr Murdoch’s London home.

She also refuted claims in an article in Vanity Fair magazine that she had been forced to act as a go-between for James and Rupert Murdoch as their relationship became increasingly fraught during the phone-hacking scandal. “Like any normal family, they had dynamics and the dynamics changed … [but] they were very happy to speak to each other.”

She said the article’s claim that James Murdoch had begun to blame subordinates over phone-hacking was also untrue.

Mrs Brooks said  she had no involvement in the appointment of her former News of the World colleague, Andy Coulson, as director of communications for Mr Cameron. Mr Coulson was later arrested over phone hacking.

Mrs Brooks was asked about how the influential Sun newspaper came to the decision to switch its support to the Conservatives in 2009, and whether this was an exercise of power by a small group of people in News International that could affect the opinions of many people.

“I don’t think we ever saw it in those terms,” she said.

She said the decision was a joint one involving Rupert and James Murdoch, the paper’s editor and its political editor, and herself.

Mrs Brooks told the inquiry she had the full consent of then-prime minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah to run a story revealing that their four-month old son had cystic fibrosis: "If the Browns had asked me not to run it, I would not have done."

 She said she was surprised when an angry Mr Brown attacked the paper five years later and wrongly alleged that his son’s medical records had been hacked.