The Leveson inquiry’s public hearings into the relationship between British politicians and the press will wrap up tomorrow with a long-awaited appearance by prime minister David Cameron. The inquiry has produced some stunning revelations over the past six months — not least last night’s claim by former PM John Major that Rupert Murdoch personally pressured him to change his policies towards Europe.
Ahead of Cameron’s testimony, here’s the juiciest revelations to date …
28 November: Soprano singer Charlotte Church tells the inquiry she waved a £100,000 fee to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding to Wendi Deng in exchange for positive publicity from Murdoch papers. Despite the agreement, the papers went after her and her family viciously. In December 2005 the News of the World reported: “Superstar Charlotte Church’s Mum tried to kill herself because her husband is a love-rat hooked on cocaine and three-in-a-bed orgies.” The NotW then threatened to publish a follow-up about the infidelity unless Church’s mother granted the paper an exclusive interview.
29 November: Former NotW journalist Paul McMullan brands ex-bosses Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson “scum” for allowing reporters to take the blame for the widespread use of phone-hacking at the paper. The unapologetic hack — who believes hacking is an “acceptable” journalistic tool — says Coulson brought the practice with him from the showbiz pages. He tells the inquiry Brooks, whom he labelled the paper’s “criminal in chief”, knew about it too.
27 February: Sue Akers, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, claims The Sun had a “culture” of illegal payments to officials in all areas of public life. One public official, Akers says, was given £80,000 over a number of years, while a journalist had received £150,000 over a number of years to pay their sources for “salacious gossip”.
7 March: Robert Quick, the UK’s former top counter-terrorism officer, says he was aware of police officers accepting payments of up to £2000 from reporters for celebrity stories as far back as 2000. Quick says his boss Andy Hayman, who went on to lead the original (and much criticised) investigation into phone hacking, didn’t take up his suggestion of an inquiry into the corrupt practices.
24 April: Ex-News International chairman James Murdoch maintains that he did not see the infamous “for Neville” email — which revealed phone-hacking extended beyond one rogue reporter — until 2010. Murdoch says he thought hacking a “thing in the past” when he took over his father’s UK newspaper operations in 2007.
25/6 April: News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch takes to the stand to accuse his underlings of keeping him in the dark about the extent of phone hacking. “I think the senior executives were all … misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there, he argued. “[T]here’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover-up.” He also downplays his political influence, saying he has never asked politicians for favours: “I have never asked a prime minister for anything. I take a particular pride in the fact that we have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers.” Murdoch also claims former PM Gordon Brown called him and “declared war” on News Corp after The Sun newspaper switched its allegiance to the Conservatives before the 2010 election.
25 May: The inquiry releases a cache of emails showing an alarmingly cosy relationship between News’ chief lobbyist Fred Michel and the office of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt during News International’s $12.5 billion bid for total control of BSkyB. Michel was in contact with Hunt’s special adviser Adam Smith around 1000 times over a 12-month period — an average of about three contacts a day. Hunt himself sent jokey text messages to the lobbyist calling him “daddy” and “mon ami”. The revelations led to calls from Labour for Hunt to resign given he was in charge of approving the BSkyB bid at the time.
11 June: A fired-up Gordon Brown accuses Rupert Murdoch of misleading the inquiry, saying that the phone call in which he supposedly threatened to “declare war” on News never happened. He also “absolutely” denies Brooks’ claim that his wife Sarah had given The Sun consent to publish a story revealing their young son had cystic fibrosis.
12 June: Former British PM John Major argues Rupert Murdoch’s claim he never asked a prime minister for anything was “on a strict interpretation literally true”. “Certainly he never asked for anything directly from me but he was not averse to pressing for policy changes,” Major said. According to the Tory, Murdoch told him his papers would not support him in the lead-up to the 1997 election unless he took a more sceptical stance on the issue of the European Union. Major refused to buckle, The Sun switched support to Labor and he was booted out of office in favour of Tony Blair.