Adam Smith at Leveson as-it-happened

By

Jeremy Hunt's former special adviser Adam Smith faced another barrage of questions at the Leveson inquiry. Review our live coverage here.

12:49 - The Leveson inquiry is taking its one-hour lunch break now, after which it will hear evidence from the DCMS' permanent secretary. I'm going to wrap up this live blog now, however. This morning we've seen Smith being every inch the politician, evasive wherever possible, gently painting Michel in as negative a light as possible, and ultimately claiming that no one in the government really believed he'd done anything wrong. Sounds to me like a news story needs to be written up, and pronto - so I'll be off. Thanks for following our coverage.

12:46 - What a finish. Smith turns down the opportunity for some famous last words, a professional to the last. He will have thought that went very well, I suspect.

12:44 - The original resignation statement was amended so that the word "believed", as in 'Smith believed contact with News Corp was part of his job', was removed, strengthening it from Smith's point of view.

12:43 - Eventually Smith was told by Hunt that "everyone" thought he'd have to go. No one criticised his conduct, first of all. Jay asks that "no one was criticisng you" - what did you think of that? Smith: "I thought by this stage that the perception had been created that something untoward had gone on, and that was why I'd offered my resignation the evening beforehand. 'Everyone thought I'd have to go' was confirmation in my mind that everyone else thought that..." Extraordinary! He's basically denying he'd done anything wrong. This is somewhat newsworthy...

12:40 - Hunt initially told Smith that it wouldn't come to him having to resign. The Michel emails were "a one-sided recollection and in many ways exaggerated", Smith told Hunt. He said they were easily defensible. Smith's explanation was accepted by Hunt at that stage. "It was me doing my job, and not to worry," Hunt told Smith and some other special advisers at an evening drink. The mood was "not at all" upbeat. "It was very pressured and one of the most stressful days I'd certainly had to deal with." Until today, perhaps.

12:36 - Smith thought Hunt could legally have taken advice from himself, but that he wanted advice from Ofcom and the OFT most of all

12:34 - Meanwhile, this morning has also seen prime minister David Cameron defending his culture secretary. In particular, Cameron's response to yesterday's memo is also very much a defence of his own conduct. The PM told ITV1's Daybreak programme: "The key thing was it wasn't what [Hunt] had said in the past, it was how he was going to do the job. And I think, if you look at how he did the job, he asked for independent advice at every stage and he took that independent advice and he did it in a thoroughly proper way."

12:32 - Next, the most newsworthy bit - which was raised in the original story on this - that Hunt had asked Michel to "advise him privately". We already know 'Hunt' meant Smith, in fact. Smith agrees with Jay's claim that Smith was trying to be open and transparent, and that was the end of it.

12:29 - Jay broadens the questioning. Did Hunt share No 10's thinking, more generally? Yes, Smith says. 

12:28 - July 7th 2011 - right at the height of the phone-hacking crisis - Michel emailed James Murdoch, half an hour after speaking to Smith. It's suggested two public inquiries backed by government were likely. Smith disputes the fact that he would be the only source of that information. "I think most of those conversations were being dealt with by No 10," he says. First mention of Downing Street so far, I think. Jay isn't going to let Smith get away with it - he says it's a "reasonable inference" that Smith is the source. Smith says it's "possible", but won't be drawn any further. "Lots of other people would presumably have known far more than I would have done by this stage," Smith says. He's really struggling here. Hunt "may well have shared" the information with him. A moment of electric tension, there, as Smith dodges and ducks. And gulps nervously.

12:25 - As the phone-hacking row gathered steam, Michel texted Smith: "We're going to take some important steps today. I'm going to call about it. Would be helpful if we both keep the same briefing line..." Smith replied: "We are definitely doing. Very strong that this is about plurality."

12:21 - "I may have said in passing News Corp are getting very frustrated, but I don't remember doing so," Smith continues. 

12:19 - Back to the undertakings-in-lieu, and the question of whether they could just be accepted if they were strong enough. That was broadly the position - Smith is doing nothing to deny it.

12:17 - Smith says the only time he can remember blaming News Corporation for messing the whole thing up was over their delay in not getting back to Ofcom quickly enough. 

12:14 - Now Jay is wondering how bad the "flak" was that the bid had gone on for so long. Smith is saying it wasn't that bad. Was the delay in the bid aggravating or enhancing the political flak? Smith says he doesn't remember talking about the share price, but that "any particular heat he was taking" would have been discussed.

12:12 - Recriminations were flying about all over the place by June, Jay says. Smith laughs when Jay suggests the DCMS would have blamed Ofcom. The department was blaming no-one. That point has been being made more or less repeatedly for two or three minutes now...

12:06 - Now Smith refers to a text he says he regrets "the most". It's the one where Smith tells Michel he was "causing chaos on your behalf". Smith said he texted Michel "to get him off my back". It was an attempt to "mollify", he claims. Or, Jay suggests, to indicate that there is a degree of collusion because they've become so close they're working together. "I could see how people could see that," Smith says miserably. He reaches for a glass of water and gulps it down. 

12:02 - A lot of reaction to all that on Twitter, as various people question whether Smith had any idea of what a special adviser's job actually entails. I think what we're learning is that when it suits them the process is nowhere near as straightforward as we'd all thought. Others are wondering why Smith resigned, if his evidence is all so defensive and defiant. The answer is that his resignation was that of a pawn being sacrificed, of course.

11:58 - Leveson intervenes to have a go. He says the Hunt memo to Cameron stated three good positive reasons for the bid to go ahead. "I didn't go quite as far as Mr Hunt in that sense," Smith says. "Well," Leveson says, smiling "we'll play about with that." Smith is laughing openly now. He says he didn't feel that strongly about it "one way or the other". Still not quite getting there. But now Smith says: "I was not that fussed." Jay then suggests that if Smith had presented a personal view to Michel it would have been more "muted" than that of Hunt's. But he adds that he never did offer what his own personal view was, "which he would have known was actually a bit of an irrelevance". Here's the key question: did Smith feel he was speaking for the secretary of state? "Not on the detailed points, no." Too much detail to run to Hunt, as it were. He was being "more of a buffer and a channel of communications, rather than representing Mr Hunt's views to anybody." This is critical. "The explanations I would give on process, or reconfirming what Mr Hunt had told them, that would have been on behalf of the department." Any view contrary to the secretary of state's? That wasn't the idea - and if he had done it would have been "heavily caveated". He said it was correct that he would have been overreaching himself if he'd gone beyond the views of Hunt. Real momentum now for Jay, who's making more progress in the last five minutes than he has in the last two hours.

11:53 - Now here's an original question: what was Smith's personal view? Smith says the undertakings in lieu would probably have "worked". Jay says that's a bit too legalistic - he wants to know what Smith thought. "At that stage there had been no issue of substance that in my personal view made a difference," he says. Jay replies by saying that Smith was actually neutral. "I didn't feel strongly about it," Smith says. Once again Jay's assumptions have been rebutted very effectively. Rather one-sided, all this. It seems the evasive qualities of a special adviser far outshine the probing abilities of a Queen's Counsel...

11:46 - Not for the first time at Leveson, I'm forced to write the phrase 'we're going around in circles now'. Right back to the start of the session, next, when Jay presses on Smith the fact that Michel was trying to get information about the department's thinking from Smith. Of course he was.

11:43 - Smith says he was trying to persuade News Corp to remove redacted bits from their bid which DCMS didn't think were particularly commercially sensitive.

11:42 - Jay turns to a "flurry" of emails and text messages in early March 2011. At 03:25 in the morning a text was sent, after a conversation shortly after 03:00 - that's right, the middle of the night - "You didn't say 'three o'clock in the morning is not a time to be calling me up?" Leveson asks. Smith says he was still in the office, working on the preparation for the statement the following day. Jay and Leveson look impressed. Do lawyers not have to work that hard, then?

11:40 - This morning has basically been one long opportunity for Smith to explain in detail exactly how Michel's claims were so misleading. They're working - but at some stage he is going to have to address the reasons why he resigned his role because of the inappropriate nature of the contacts.

11:34 - Jay is clutching at straws now. He's suggesting that the use of the pronoun 'we' in one communication from Smith to Michel puts Smith in the same camp as News Corp. Smith just says it refers to 'we' as in the department.

11:31 - Next Jay is trying to suggest that Hunt's "ultimate goal" was to avoid a referral to the Competition Commission. "I don't particularly think so, no," Smith says. So Jay just says the only way this can be resolved is if Smith claims Michel's email is completely incorrect. Smith quibbles, pointing out a number of minor factual points that are incorrect. "But yes, the tone of the rest of it I wouldn't agree with." And so the long morning wears on.

11:28 - Still on the Swan Lake email, and a fascinating exchange over whether or not Smith's chat with Hunt had anything to do with the News Corp bid. Smith employs the 'I don't remember' defence, essentially. Very effectively blocked. Very frustrating for Jay, who's forced to move on.

11:23 - "I'm sure I often say things that aren't Mr Hunt's opinion," Smith says cautiously in reply to the first of Jay's next set of questions. A spad should be a minister's voice, though... he's trying to avoid that fundamental truth.

11:19 - Leveson isn't having any of this special adviser ambiguity. He picks up Smith for saying "I don't recognise...", along the lines of 'I don't recognise that's accurate'. Smith retreats, acknowledging that he rejects Michel's reading of the situation outright. This is ridiculous!

11:18 - This is all one big informal mess, full of inferences and suggestions. Really no-one is coming out well from it all. Smith is permanently on shaky ground because he was leading on Michel here, and breaking the rules with him there, and suggesting he was on the same side all the time. But Michel's evidence, exaggerating and blurring the contacts between the two still further, makes it all even more complicated. That's what they're talking about now - what Leveson describes as "putting spin on" their chats. In one email Michel claims Smith shared News Corp's frustration. "I didn't," Smith says flatly. "I can understand they were frustrated." Even there, you see, he's being ambiguous!

11:12 - The Swan Lake mystery continues. Michel had claimed in an email that Smith had spoken to Hunt before the culture sec went in to see the ballet. But this appears to be a complete fabrication by Michel. Smith says he can't help cast any more light on this.

11:10 - They're back, and Jay returns quickly to the 'legal wriggle room' text. "Other than what jeremy and I have told you! We have no legal wriggle room in a statement to parliament." - that's what the text said. Smith says more "space" was needed - rather than time. It becomes political, Jay says. "Politically you needed space for those undertakings in lieu to be properly considered," he suggests. Smith rejects that. He says he was just saying that "space and time" was needed to consider the UILs. Now they're laughing. "Text messages are not the best way to convey..." Smith trails off. Jay says the accumulation of text messages arguably gives rise to a particular impression. "I can see how that perception would be created, yes," Smith says. He's just admitted his texts gave the impression that he was on the same side as Michel

11:05 - Good Lord - it's going to be incredibly busy at the Leveson inquiry next week. Monday sees ex-PM Tony Blair give evidence. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday we've got Michael Gove, Theresa May, Vince Cable and Ken Clarke. And then, the main feature presentation on Thursday - Jeremy Hunt. It's going to be gripping.

11:00 - The session continues with more badgering from Jay about the flippancy of Smith's text. "Clearly not as funny as I thought at the time," Smith replies miserably. After which Leveson announces a short break. "We've had an hour and a half," the judge points out. "Oh, have we?" replies Jay, vaguely. Time flies when you're bringing down a secretary of state, no doubt.

10:56 - February 3rd, and a text message exchange between the two. Michel had asked Smith for some legal documents. Smith had replied: "I haven't actually got them at the moment. Officials just told me about them. Don't mention them to OFT [Office of Fair Trading] at the moment. If you need them, I'll show you." Jay suggests that this looks like Smith was being a bit "surreptitious" and that Michel could reasonably have thought Smith was "acting conspiratorially and you were now pretty much on side". Smith just disagrees with that suggestion out of hand. No real explanation for why he doesn't think that.

10:50: "Text messages aren't quite used in that way," Smith says, apparently suggesting that they are inherently more informal. Much easier to be inappropriate with them, in short. He was being "too flippant and loose with my language", he concedes. They didn't mean much, he insists.

10:43 - Even on the little things, like Michel describing a "chat" with Smith when actually it was just a text exchange, News Corp's point man is coming out very badly from all of this.

10:41 - A text is read out from Smith to Michel a few hours after Hunt had put forward a statement to the Commons. Here Smith admits that he was trying to privately reassure Michel that Hunt was keen on News Corp's undertakings in lieu - even though in his statement he hadn't praised them as being "strong", or whatever, as Michel had been pushing for. 

10:40 - "These points about referring to Ofcom and having a consultation - four days earlier Mr Hunt had sat in a room with Mr Murdoch and explained that that was going to happen next," Smith says. This is all getting very repetitive - Smith says that Michel's "excitable tone" was, effectively, being over-egged.

10:35 - Next we're looking at a phone call taken at the weekend. Jay wonders what the fuss was about - why was it so urgent? He's barking up the wrong tree there. Special advisers are on call all the time, really. It's more a state of being than a 9-5 job.

10:32 - Leveson jumps in to have a go. "It is at least implicit that there is common cause being fought here," he suggests, and Smith accepts that's the case if it's "100% accurate". Leveson said the email was either accurate in representing the secretary of state's view, representing Smith's view of the secretary of state's view, or wasn't accurate at all. Smith says the email was a mix, really. A lot of it is factually accurate because Hunt had already told News Corp about this a few days previously. "The tone of it I would dispute," he adds. So it's just inaccurate, Leveson asks? Smith, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, agrees.

10:29 - Jay is smiling now as he leads Smith on, suggesting that there were different parts of Hunt's mind - one carrying out his legal duties, the other seeing great advantages of News Corp succeeding in the bid. Smith, whose confidence appears to be growing, utterly rejects all that. Hunt was focused on fulfilling his legal responsibilities, he says. Fairly easy for him to deny that, and Jay is going to have to work a bit harder to make progress, I'm afraid.

10:26 - A lot of picking over the bones of a conversation that happened on January 23rd, when Michel was trying to work out what was going on in the department's mind. Jay suggests Michel was getting a lot out of it, saying it "provides insight into what departmental strategy was". Smith is denying this, of course.

10:22 - "I may well have said 'that sounded about right', or something along those lines, yes." I think that just about sums it up: these conversations between Michel and Smith sound like classic political second-guessing, with meanings transferred through inference and suggestion. Not exactly the kind of chit-chats which are best-suited to analysis through this kind of scrutiny, alas.

10:18 - Now Smith is on more wobbly ground. He was present at a meeting of Ofcom when they discussed the issues over whether or not a referral to the Competition Commission might be necessary. How else could Michel have known about all this, had it not been via Smith? He says Hunt had made quite clear he wanted to share his views, and that in any case they were "well known to News Corporation". "Let's look at another email," says Jay sceptically.

10:14 - Jay sets aside Hunt for now and asks Smith about interdepartmental discussions about the bid. Again Smith is on the defensive, downplaying the significance of any concerns DCMS and other government departments might have had about it.

10:11 - On January 10th 2011 the phone records show three phone calls totalling 27 minutes and 55 seconds, Jay says. Smith looks at an email from Michel summing up the situation and picks out the bits he says make it look more positive for News Corp. "I don't believe I would have phrased things like that," he says. Smith says he probably did confirm the information that Hunt had already said to Murdoch - and points out that Hunt had asked for "comment and representations" in response to a letter Hunt had written to Murdoch. Smith is on solid ground, here, as he disputes Michel's use of the word 'plea'. It was used along the lines of 'Hunt is pleading with us to let us know what's going on'. Jay agrees with Smith, pointing out that Michel "rowed back" on the word 'plea' in yesterday's evidence. This is suddenly going very well for Hunt.

10:05 - Smith denies Hunt being "frustrated" at not being able to express a view on the BSkyB bid to Vince Cable, when the business secretary was responsible for the bid. A tougher line of questioning from Jay follows about the terms on which Smith laid out his line of communication with Michel.

10:00 - Jay explains that the purpose of this exercise is to work out how isolated Michel was - that's the key question which he's seeking to an answer to. The way to do that is to go through a selection of the contacts between Michel and Smith, and see where we are.

09:59 - Smith, finally going on the defensive rather than just being utterly passive, points out that all of this would have been known to Hunt anyway.

09:58 - Smith had received a "note or critique" of the UILs (undertakings in lieu) from Michel which had been forwarded to Jeremy Hunt. "I imagine he would have guessed that's where I've got it from," Smith says, after being asked whether Hunt was told it came from Michel. Lord Justice Leveson intervenes, forcing another concession that the information had to come from News Corp because of the reference to 'we' at the beginning. Another long, significant silence. We're getting quite a few of those this morning.

09:52 - Lots more emails coming to light now. "Adam - any views on how much we can sensibly tell Fred?" That one was sent to Smith by Jon Zeff, the DCMS' media chief, on January 27th.

09:49 - Jay suggests that the contact between Smith and Michel was much more useful to Michel than it was to Smith, as Smith couldn't care less about the information Michel had to offer. Smith just accepts that's the case. Not even a shrug.

09:47 - What were the limits on providing information? "I wasn't aware of any particular limits," Smith says vaguely. What an awful position he's in. Special advisers are supposed to be in the background, not hauled up in front of an inquiry like this. He will have worked out long before today that something has gone horribly wrong, but actually being here - facing these questions like this - must be a fairly gruelling experience. He certainly looks fairly gruelled, that's for sure.

09:45 - Did Hunt know that Smith was in contact with Michel? "I believe so, I think he did yes, I would have mentioned it." Jay pauses for a moment to let that sink in. Seems significant to me. "I don't think they knew the volume or extent," Smith adds a few moments later.

09:41 - Jay quickly establishes that DCMS knew that Smith was in contact with Michel, that Smith wasn't in contact with anyone else at News Corp, that "95%" of phone calls would have been on a mobile rather than a landline.

09:37 - Lord Justice Leveson is in his seat, and begins by asking inquiry counsel Robert Jay to explain what exactly a quasi-judicial 'test' consists of. Jay says Hunt can refer the bid to the Competition Commission if public interest is threatened - specifically relating to plurality issues in Britain. "That is the sole issue which the secretary of state is bound by statute to consider for this purpose," Jay says. Well, with that legalese sorted out, we can move on to Adam Smith. Off we go.

09:31 - Also appearing later today, by the way, will be Jonathan Stephens, the permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport whose past equivocal, evasive answers to the Commons' public accounts committee proved so frustrating. We'll have to see whether he's sorted out his line a little later.

09:26 - In a rather unusual shift from the way Lord Justice Leveson usually manages things the plan is to start half an hour earlier than usual, at 09:30. So it's very nearly time for the balloon to go up. Hold on to your hats...

09:25 - The question today is whether Hunt's prospects for surviving this crisis are going to be downgraded or boosted by Smith's evidence. Labour figures are certainly sensing there's a chance the media secretary may be forced to go and are calling for his resignation. Commenting on yesterday's evidence last night, shadow media secretary Harriet Harman said: "It is clear from today’s evidence that David Cameron gave responsibility to Jeremy Hunt for deciding on the BSkyB bid when he knew only too well that the Culture Secretary was actively supporting the bid. The prime minister should never have given him the job." She then adds: "It is clear that Jeremy Hunt was not the impartial arbiter he was required to be, and he should already have resigned.”

09:15 - Good morning, one and all. It's going to be another tough day at the office for Adam Smith, the fresh-faced former special adviser to Jeremy Hunt whose "inappropriate" contacts with News Corporation have cost him his job at the heart of government. Yesterday Smith's testimony saw the revelation of a memo from Hunt to David Cameron which revealed the prime minister was aware of Mr Hunt's support for the BSkyB bid when he gave him control of it. We also heard of the 191 phone calls, 158 emails and 99 texts between News Corp's Frederic Michel, Rupert Murdoch's chief lobbyist, and Mr Hunt or Mr Smith. Smith sent 257 texts back - that definitely falls under the heading of 'inappropriate', that's for sure. Read our full story of yesterday's session to get back up to speed, or review our as-it-happened coverage.

Get involved Get Involved