Jeremy Hunt at Leveson as-it-happened

By

09:40 - Maybe David Cameron can see the vultures flying overhead. It must be a gloomy morning in Downing Street today. Andy Coulson has been charged with perjury for his evidence during the trial of Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan. If proved true, the act would have taken place during his time in Downing Street. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt is giving evidence at Leveson. Lord Leveson has insisted it is not in his remit to decide the fate of government ministers, but that is undoubtedly what he and, perhaps more prominently, inquiry counsel Robert Jay will be doing. Cameron has refused to fire Hunt, saying he should be given until today to put his side of the story. By this afternoon, we'll have a better idea of whether that's going to work.

09:49 - There are many allegations about Hunt which he will need to satisfactorily dispel, but here's a choice selection: Firstly, he lied to parliament. The media secretary said he did not lobby Cameron while Vince Cable had the brief. During the testimony of Adam Smith, his special adviser (spad), we saw a memo which made it look very much like he did. He also told the Commons he had published all communication between himself and News Corp - and then we saw all those texts , phone calls and emails. Secondly, he allowed an intimate connection to develop between his office - via Smith - and Feed Michel, lobbyist for James Murdoch. At best, Smith did this by overstepping his boundaries and without Hunt's full knowledge. At worst, Hunt was aware of it. But even the more minor charge is problematic. Under the ministerial code ministers take responsibility for what their staff do. And anyway, on a competence level, it's not adequate for a minister to not have control of his office during a highly sensitive commercial bid which could change the British media landscape.

09:56 - What will Hunt argue? He's handed the inquiry 160 pages of internal memos, emails and text message transcripts. He will also make a great deal of the fact he gave the bid to Ofcom, something which complicated News Corp's position, and downplay the fact that he did not follow its advice and hand it to the Competition Commission. He will also point to Fred Michel's testimony - and that of Adam Smith and Vince Cable yesterday - as evidence the News Corp lobbyist was exaggerating his influence. Even if the two of them did call each other "daddy".

10:00 - Kick-off should be anytime now. AH yes, one more thing to mention. The infamous tree story, where Hunt hid behind a tree so he wouldn't be seen by journalists when trying to go see James Murdoch a few years back. I really am hoping that comes up.

10:03 - Jeremy Hunt comes in, slightly sheepish. He takes the Bible in his hand and swears under oath. Jay looks smug and unimpressed.

10:04 - Jay runs through his career - in parliament since 2005, shadow culture, media and sport and then the actual secretary of state since 2010. Hunt seems slightly nervous, but not as bad as in the Commons when first responding to the row. 

10:05 - Jay reminds him there's a bit on his website which says he is a "cheerleader" for Murdoch. Hunt, like Smith before him, says it was an interview they put up and doesn't really reflect his view. By the way his full name is Jeremy Richard Strenchon Hunt. There's posh, and then there's posh.

10:07 - Already I must say the evidence is doubtful. I can't imagine he puts up all the negative articles about him on his personal website. Frankly, I doubt many which have been published over the last month are on there. But never mind. Jay asks if Hunt sympathised with Murdoch's (it's always James Murdoch today unless I specify otherwise) speech criticising the BBC and promoting profit. He says he disagreed with his attack on the BBC but not his support for commercial ventures. "Generally speaking I didn't share his view on the licence fee, he thinks it's wrong full stop. I think the BBC is a benchmark for quality in broadcasting and the licence fee is needed to make that possible."

10:10 - Jay brings up a trip to New York. Hunt says it's for local TV research but he met with News Corp executives while he was there. Murdoch wasn't there - he was in London. Jay moves onto a dinner after he became media secretary., "That was the occasion you were said to hide behind a tree," Jay says. Hunt says that's not accurate. "On my way to dinner I spotted a large group of journalists so I moved to a different part of the quadrangle." Jay: "Where there may or may not have been trees?" Hunt: "Yes." Leveson:" Mr Jay, I think we can move on."

10:14 - Jay asks if he told the Murdoch clan he was sympathetic to the bid at this stage. He says they controlled BSkyB, "so I didn't think there was a significant change in plurality". he says Murdoch phoned him as a courtesy. He called him and Cable. He spoke to Cable first, as far as Hunt knows. We move to another meeting, where Jay says there were no officials or minutes. Hunt says his officials said he could meet Murdoch without minutes or officials, as he did with the BBC. Jay asks if the BSkyB bid was discussed. "I would be very surprised if it wasn't discussed," he said. He jokes he tried to get Murdoch excited about superfast broadband. No one laughs. Even that sounds subservient.

10:18 - Hunt says, as Michel did, that they became friends because they had children in the same hospital on the same night. Hence the fact they called each other "daddy". Yeah, I know, creepy whichever way you work it. Hunt says he never socialised with Michel although they met for coffee a few times. There's a lot of fuss over 'supplementary bundle two'. We're looking at a briefing note on plurality. Michel sent it to Smith and Smith to him. Hunt commented at the time that it was "very powerful actually". Now he says it confirmed the view he had that there was no plurality issue. Did he know he obtained it from Michel? He knew it was News Corp, not Michel. Did he deduce it. "That would have been an intelligent guess to have made if I had been interested in the precise person."

10:22 - It went to his personal email account, which Hunt says is the only one he uses. His departmental email is looked after by the private office. A new message. "Just sent Adam out digital numbers" it reads. Hunts not sure what it means (viewing figures). Then it says "can you meet James for a catch-up?" They arranged to meet Monday. Hunt texts back: "Great." Then he gets legal advice.

10:26 - He is told not to have "any external discussions" or write to Cable. He is told any action can only be writing with facts, but even that has risks. he says that didn't mean he couldn't be in contact with people in the industry and to try and understand a significant merger in the industry he was responsible for. The second page of the note is copied to the minister of state and the permanent secretary and his spads. Did he discuss its content with Smith? Hunt can't recall "but it's quite possible". Did he express frustration? "I think I had concern about the situation where we had this very important merger in my sector where I didn't think there was a particularly problem but the organisation concerned felt they were encountering a number of obstacles. This was probably the first time I heard the phrase quasi-judicial or had some kind of exposure to the implications of what that meant. We had a meeting in the diary. I decided to cancel that meeting because I thought they were probably wanting to have the meeting with me Cable had refused to have with them."

10:31 - Hunt wanted the legal advice further considered. When it came it was along the same lines, saying it was "unwise" to make representations to Cable. The next stage is on November 15th, in relation to the Murdoch meeting. This is when Michel was told Hunt couldn't meet Murdoch. They then talk on the mobile phone because they can't meet. "That was at my discretion," he said. He didn't want to get involved in a quasi judicial process but it was appropriate to hear what a big player in my industry was saying, indeed I thought it was my duty to do so. Having been thought the bid I would take a different view on the presence of officials. I just wanted to be efficient but given the massive number of conspiracy theories that abound I would like official taking notes." Jay: "If a meeting is inappropriate, why is a telephone call appropriate." Hunt says the content was not interchangeable. His answer is deeply unconvincing.

10:39 - "What you heard on the phone was exactly the same thing you would have heard in a face-to-face meeting," Jay suggests. he asks if Hunt explained that he couldn't get involved during the call. Damningly, Jay then reads enthusiastic messages from Michel after the call.

10:42 - The Michel message then says he'll work with Adam to make sure they send him "helpful arguments". Not only does that sound bad, it shows he knew Smith was working closely with Michel. "It's rather like Adam says in his evidence, if someone offers to send you something you acknowledge it but I don't believe I would have asked for it," Hunt says. He now move on to an email from Hunt to Smith - he wants him to check that memo to the PM where he states his views on the bid. Jay is careful building a picture here and it's potentially going to a very bad place for Hunt. "I think I felt the approach the government was taking was inconsistent with [the free market, risk -taking business ventures]," Hunt says in trying to explain the memo. The politics is complex, he says. You have Conservative newspaper groups split. "I don't think there's any particular win in any outcome as far as a Conservative-led government is concerned."

10:46 - Hunt says he was concerned the newspaper model is not financially viable and the bid could help change that. Jay says Hunt was seeking a policy meeting - that's problematic, because it contradicts the advice he got an quasi-judicial. "I do now understand a lot more of quasi-judicial decision, it's probably engraved on my brain. I do realise it would not have been possible for Cable to attend such a meeting." When the memo changed was that due to Hunt or Smith? "Possibly either," Hunt says.

10:49 - Smith says he's happier with a second version, suggesting Hunt made the changes. Jay outlines what the changes are, suggesting he beefed up the second paragraph. Hunt looks sideways at someone in the public gallery, hesitates, keeps checking notes. This is not going well. Jay is icy and in control here, disdainful.

10:52 - Hunt admits, importantly, that Smith "self evidently knew your view on this crucial issue". That makes it difficult to suggest he is a rogue spad. This is turning into a disaster for Hunt. It's almost difficult to watch. We're on a text where Hunt told Murdoch he was sorry he missed his call. He texted him "Congrats on Brussels, just Ofcom to go" Jay: "Would you agree that is conveying a somewhat positive view on where the process had reached."

10:57 - Hunt admits he talked with Murdoch about the Cable "war" story. Did he chat with Coulson about Cable? Hunt says no. At 4pm he chatted to Murdoch, where he expressed concern about bias because of the quote. Hunt then texted George Osborne and emailed Andy Coulson. Oh.dear. That happened within ten minutes.

11:00 - Jay: "Did you have any conversation with No.10?" at 16:58 Osborne texts him: "I hope you like the solution." What did that mean? In between the text he sent and the response they had an inkling No.10 was going to transfer the responsibility to him. So Osborne's solution comment meant he already knew? "I think I knew it was in the offing but I was worried about that because I'd publicly made comments that were sympathetic to the bid so by that stage we were making sure No.10 knew about those comments so they didn't go ahead and announce me not knowing about those comments."

11:02 - "All that material is entirely consistent with the overall position I'd taken that I was sympathetic to the bid," Jay says of his memo and other messages of support. Jay asks if he would have sent the Brussels text after 16:58, when Osborne texted him. No - although he points out that's not when the final decision was taken. That happened when the PM got legal advice. That would have been an hour or so later. Dr Cable had just lost the role because of a appearance of bias in one direction, doesn't it emerge from this text you should not have been given the role for the same reason," Jay says. Hunt says quasi-judicial roles don't need to wipe your brain. "You set aside any views you have," he says. "My suitability for the role is demonstrated by the actions I took once I had it. I et up a process to make sure I couldn't use those sympathies."

11:08 - Was it your view adherence to due process and independent advice would "cure" any perception of bias which might have arisen. Hunt says due process didn't require independent advice, but he got it anyway, to assure public he was being even-handed. That would also protect him from judicial review, Jay suggests. Independent advice, for instance on undertakings in lieu (UIL) wasn't required for that. "Do you think decision to transfer to you was taken too hastily?" Jay asks. Hunt: "No. PM asked for legal advice and made decision accordingly." Jay suggests delay would cause uncertainty and imperil the bid. Hunt does not really address the idea of why it was all so rushed.

11:14 - Jay is on a meeting between the Business Department (Bis) and the Culture, Media and Sport Department (DCMS) in which they handed over the bid. Bis official outlined the sec of states role in the process "and the various considerations". This was Hunt's first experience of a quasi-judicial function. Jay asks if he thought the role allowed frequent interactions. Hunt says he had to "be fair to both sides, we had to be careful to treat each side equally". That didn't mean equal meetings. Once News Corp offered UILs they needed lots of meetings on them. Anyway, because of his duties as secretary of state he would always be bumping into people affected by it. Jay says any communication had to be transparent, documented and placed in public domain. Would Hunt agree? Hunt says yes if "it was material to my decision". Jay: "Or the process. Would you agree?" Hunt: "No. This is my interpretation of quasi-judicial. Having completed the process one learns lessons and I wouldn't necessarily have the same interpretation now. The decision was impartial, unbiased. That was where transparency was important. But where something was trivial... not trivial, that's the wrong word, it wouldn't necessarily apply to every part of the process." He adds: "If I bumped into someone in a lift or gave a courteous reply to a text message" that wouldn't count. Jay: "Official channels included Mr Smith. You were aware he was your channel to news Corp in the person of Mr Michel."

11:24 - Hunt says Smith was not given express instruction. In terms of discharging his function, he would have to work that out from what he heard at meetings. Jay asks if he was given instructions about what not to do. "His ordinary function as a spad was to represent you and communicate your view." That's one thing they do, Hunt says. They are also a contact point for industry stake-holders etc. It's significant that Hunt admits he never told him what he couldn't do.

11:27 - Hunt tries to talk about super-fast broadband again, rather sweetly. he says Smith was actually quite apolitical - a view born out by the man himself when he appeared. "I doubt there is a minister who worked more closely with a special adviser than I did with Adam Smith," Hunt says. Is he actually resigned to his fate. It really does seem that way. Hunt is not trying to protect himself at all here.

11:29 - Leveson interjects: It was clear to Hunt enormous care needed to be exercised, wasn't it? Hunt says yes. And we take a break for ten minutes. Back in a bit.

11:38 - I just grabbed a coffee from the cafe down the hall, in the press gallery in parliament. On the way I passed about five groups of people all having the same conversation. "Mumble mumble *resignation* mumble mumble *Hunt*". It's a consensus, basically. I doubt anyone disagrees.

11:44 - We're back. This just in from Coulson's legal team, by the way: "Andy Coulson will vigorously contest the perjury allegations made against him." Jay says that without express instructions as to what he did, he reverted to being Hunt's representative. Hunt says no, he was extremely bright. He was new to the process. Jay: You knew Michel was an extremely effective lobbyist. Jay says the job of such an individual was to be charming, pushy etc. Hunt: He was certainly a character, I didn't mark him out to be m ore or less effective. Jay: Didn't you think some of his tests were evidence of pushiness. Hunt says yes, "you can probably sense my responses were often one word but they got pretty brief."

11:47 - His team was surprised by the "barrage" of texts from Michel. If you do the analysis, Michel was contacting Smith about five times a day. "We didn't anticipate that at all." Smith felt part of his duty was to reassure News Corp. "We all wanted to reassure them they would get no favours but they would be fairly treated." What other value did Smith offer? For the bid process, this is what he was doing." Jay: His role was to keep News Corp happy during a difficult and protracted process. Why not keep them onboard overall, if you had concern the wheels might fall off because of delay. Hunt says he had put those concerns aside. He says plurality was about free expression and that "many generations of Brits go on to choose their own destiny". Er...

11:51 - Jay keeps pushing. Hunt says he was more passionate about the public interest of plurality than he was about his belief that there was no problem with plurality. It's a quite insane argument, frankly.

11:53 - OK, Jay moves onto the process. Everything we've heard so far still doesn't challenge Hunt's argument that he behaved properly while he had the bid. Well, it does of course, but it's not a slam-dunk case. My prediction is Cameron is trying to keep him in place until he reshuffles this summer, when he will quietly drop him. That is preferable to firing him, which brings the accusations straight to his door. Those accusation include: why suddenly transfer responsibility in a rash two-hour decision, despite Hunt being on record as being biased? It raises questions about Cameron's judgement (again). And that's not to mention that he has thrown his weight behind the media secretary in recent weeks, raising even more questions about his judgement. Secondly, a sacking boosts the impression of sleaze and incompetence. Cameron is trying to hold off until that summer reshuffle.

11:59 - Jay asks when minutes of Hunt meeting with Richards of Ofcom were made available to News Corp. Hunt doesn't know. He's now discussing the UILs, which he was obliged to consider. That led to a meeting. Hunt says he was convinced about plurality when News Corp offered to spin off Sky News. Hunt says Murdoch was "very cross" when he considered the undertakings but said he wanted independent advice from two regulators. The Enterprise Act allows advice from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom. "I thought it was very important to do so. It was Ofcom who said they had plurality concerns. I didn't agree with every word but they listed in a lot of detail what they thought their plurality concerns were." Murdoch thought that was tantamount to wanting to kill the deal.

12:06 - Hunt much more confident now. he knows this is where it's won or lost - on behaviour during the bid. He said he put in place two processes - one on plurality and the other on finance. OFT and Ofcom came back, Jay said. Their concerns were fourfold. Murdoch was angry to lose Sky News. Ofcom also wanted to stop news Corp buying additional shares. Murdoch was worried a commercial rival might buy them and lose him control forever. "This was presented to me," Hunt says. "I Wrote to Murdoch and I gave him 24 hours to back down on every single one of them."

12:10 - News Corp then accepted. Hunt accepted the UILs. And everything was looking good for the bid. He then gave an announcement to parliament that he was minded to accept the UILs and there would be a public consultation. There were 40,000 responses, most of them hostile to the UILs. Many responses were about competition issues, which he wasn't allowed to consider. Then his officials chatted with Ofcom about any issues raised. They went back with them to News Corp. They wanted protection for the new company - cross-marketing and the like. The UILs were strengthened further, making Sky news "massively more independent".

12:16 - Jay reads out Hunt's preliminary views, which didn't depart much from his eventual views. On June 30th, Hunt makes his announcement to parliament.

12:17 - Reports are emerging that the government is about the U-turn on its charity proposals in the Budget. That's basically the whole Budget (apart from the 50p tax rate of course) which they have U-turned on. Big news. Good day to bury it?

12:19 - OK, we're on phone-hacking now. The Milly Dowler story has broken. He sought legal advice on whether phone-hacking was relevant. The general advice was just like policy issues shouldn't impact on it neither should this. But the official advice was that "if there was an issue of trust" it did impinge on the bid.

12:21 - Sorry, that was before the Milly Dowler revelations. He has just got to the point where that story broke and the ensuing closure of News of the World (NOTW). He says "that was a significant moment because I wondered if there was a management issue". He adds: "If they found it necessary to close down a whole newspaper is there a corporate governance issue here?"

12:23 - Ok, we now go to informal communications - texts and emails. Could get sticky for Hunt again here. Smith sent an email after having a chat with Hunt about the two-week timetable for the UILs. Leveson interjects to discuss what a UIL is. If you refer to the Competition Commission (CC) there's a process. If you do a UIL, that deals with concerns and therefore avoids the time and complexity of a referral to the CC.

12:28 - One of Hunt's emails to Smith, concerning the UILs and Ofcom, says: "Something to use at the despatch box or anytime we are accused of being pro-Murdoch." Hunt says this was their frustration at being branded pro-Murdoch despite all his best efforts. Jay: Wasn't the irony that you both appreciated you were privately pro-Murdoch but had to follow a process which gave the impression of being impartial. Hunt says he wasn't just keeping up appearances - he didn't know what Ofcom or the OFT would say. "We pushed the boat off the pier but we didn't know where it was going to end up."

12:33 - Now we're on communication late at night on the announcement - thinking about parliament and the market reaction. The message suggests news Corp were being sent advance notice of the announcement set for 7:30 on March 3rd. Hunt says that is standard practise. Jay: "It's clear Mr Smith acted on that."

12:37 - Hunt says he structured the process to remove his discretion. Therefore the discussions were between Ofcom, the OFT and News Corp. News Corp knew he would listen to the two watchdogs. "It was Ofcom and the OFT they had to persuade." Actually he had a bit of a Fredian slip "I wanted to structure the [BSkyB] process so nobody would believe I had any discretion."

12:41 - Hunt says there was regular contact from Slaughter and May, a legal firm. Once the UILs came out they said they would need to be structural, not behavioural. "We did take what they said pretty seriously," Hunt says. Jay points out Smith was not in contact with them at all. "That's not material," Hunt says. "Jay says there's a difference between the message and the messenger. Hunt says he was being open minded, even handed, "we were wanting to be fair and we had this lock on the process" through Ofcom and the OFT.

12:43 - We move on. The new document shows Hunt was giving consideration to the "fit and proper person" test. He is recalled as raising two points - is the process moving as fast as it can. Jay: "Possible concern now about delay, do you accept?" Hunt says he wants everything in government to move quickly. "I wanted to make sure everyone involved in the bid was giving it priority." The next quote shows Hunt is feeling out the "standards limb of the public interest test" - this is the 'fit and proper' bit. Hunt was advised he couldn't evoke it - you can only do it once. It could have been done by Cable when he evoked plurality. Now Hunt knew about phone-hacking he wanted to know if he could evoke it. We move on. That last part was useful to Hunt.

12:47 - Hunt says Michel's internal emails show phone-hacking was a growing concern to News Corp and they were worried it might derail the bid. The Michel email to Smith says they are keen to start consultation "otherwise won't be done before mid-June, will be catastrophic for many important reasons". Hunt says this is a constant theme with Michel's emails. "We looking at it externally didn't know this was a volcano which was about to erupt", he says.

12:50 - Jay says Michel's thought was "private and of some sensitivity" but he expressed it to Smith. it suggests Smith would know or find out what those significant reasons were. Was it communicated to him? Hunt says it "certainly wasn't" and he doubts Smith had any idea. What kind of person would not be curious about that quote? Hunt says it was another attempt by News Corp to pile on the pressure. "You've spoken to Mr Smith. He's a very uncomplaining, hard-working person. He saw his job as to absorb that pressure. I was determined this bid should not derail the other things in my department. Mr Smith saw himself as that buffer. That's why he didn't inform me of all these conversations."

12:53 - Hunt is growing in confidence. He still looks like he's going to cry though. It appears Smith communicated a timetable to Michel. Was Smith acting within or without his authority? Hunt: "Entirely within his authority."

12:57 - A Hunt email reads: "Feels like the world doesn't trust the Murdoch's further than they can be thrown." Ok, we break for lunch. Back at 14:00. See you then.

14:00 - Welcome back. We should be good to go anytime now.

14:06 - A lawyer for News International is raising concerns about redactions in Hunt's evidence. "I don't see why it matters considering this is all history," Leveson says. The lawyers argues some other examples of unredacted sections are more sensitive - one lists the end date of a contract.

14:10 - NI keep trying to stop the documents being published until the redactions are added. "Linklaters [the legal firm] had better get in a taxi now and get down here now," Leveson replies. God bless him.

14:13 - Back to Hunt. "No.10 began talking to DCMS when the Milly Dowler story occurred," he said. "This was such a huge national issue. they were certainly linked in the public mind even if they weren't linked in my mind." He suggests the closure of NOTW was the big break for him, when he thought there might be a problem with the management culture. Since lunch, Hunt has come back with living working hands. His voice is more confident, his body language more persuasive. Total change. I would bet all the money in my pocket (£1.68) he has been told to do this.

14:18 - No-one can fix Hunt's eyes though. He still seems like a naughty schoolboy. Those rumours of him as leadership material seem so very long ago. During a conference call, hunt decided to write to Ofcom and the OFT to see if they stood by their advice of days earlier. He also asked Ofcom about the 'fit and proper' issue. But the select committee had already asked them that. "That was something that could have been relevant to the bid," Hunt says. "That would have been pretty significant."

14:25 - "If wrongdoing was so endemic in a company then it does potentially become a question of management construction," Hunt says. Jay moves on. The message sees Hunt warn that he may have said Cameron talked with Rebekah Brooks about the bid. "I was proposing how we dealt with the fact the Labour party were misinterpreting something I had said. My response consistently was it was irrelevant because he wasn't taking the decision on the BSkyB merger," Hunt says. Next his spad emails him, saying they'd published the list of meetings he had with media people. It was all entirely normal, apparently.

14:30 - Now we're back for post-December 2010 emails between Hunt and Michel. We start in January. "Great to see you today," Michel writes. Then there's a reference to his kid, which is redacted. At a quarter to midnight, Hunt writes: "Hope you understand why we have to have the long process. Let's meet up when things are resolved." Jay suggests its encouraging. Hunt denies that. The next morning he writes: "We do. You were very impressive yesterday, let's meet up when it's all done." Jay: "Its is very pushy." Hunt: "yes it is, it's also very cheeky, because that's the day I'd had the row with Murdoch. it was a very difficult meeting. I wonder whether he was trying to break the ice. I agree." Jay: "For someone excising a quasi-judicial function you would have been concerned about the tone." Hunt: "I would have given a courteous reply." Jay: "Closing down the conversation as quickly as possible" would have involved saying this kind of contact was inappropriate and must stop. Hunt says texts weren't inappropriate, it would have been if there was something of substance in there. Jay says if this was his approach to Hunt surely it was the same with Smith. Hunt says yes, although he didn't know about the volume of conversation.

14:34 - Jay cites another flattering text saying how well Hunt did in the COmmons. Then another after Marr. Hunt laughs that the flattery no longer seemed persuasive. Jay quotes him texting that they could soon "have coffee like the old days". Hunt say's he's comfortable with that. They were warm because of that coincidence with the children's' birth. "Some would say if the bid was turned down it would have been a rather frosty cup of coffee," Jay says. Now he moves on to a text conversation they had during Wimbledon. "It was incredible ingenuity. He was looking for any oppourtunity he could to establish contact. What I didn't deduce from the was the effect on this type of contact multiplied many times over to Adam Smith. That was the crucial thing we didn't foresee. That's something we have to reflect on. My feeling is Adam Smith is the most decent straight honourable person one cold imagine. Even he was not able to maintain the impartiality he needed to because of the volume of communication." Remarkable comment.

14:39 - We're now on Hunt-Smith texts. Smith tells him he should be leading a debate at one point, leading to Jay suggesting Smith is not afraid to be giving him his opinion. "You did exactly what was needed, the view from journos seems to be you were dumped on by No.10" another text reads. Jay: "He's quite astute and exhibiting political nous isn't he?" Jay says. Hunt says it's standard. "I'm sure it is Mr Hunt," Jay says. When Brooks resigned, Hunt texted: "About bloody time."

14:45 - Hunt's hands have died on his lap again. He has the look of fear again We see a text between Hunt and Craig Oliver, head of communication at No.10, in March 2011. "View emerging that Murdoch will pull a fast one on selling Sky News," Oliver writes. Now from Sue Beeby to Hunt. Coulson is so closely linked to Murdoch, that he shouldn't be meeting him at all. "When Coulson left Downing Street, I'd know him. When he left I said probably in a text 'lets meet up for drink'. I'd left Sue to arrange it and she said it's better to wait until the quasi-judicial process is over." Jay: "Did it really need your special adviser to realise that?" Next she texts: "Please don't take any calls from Vince [Cable] until we speak. He's trying to be very sneaky over News Corp." She had heard a rumour he was planning on distancing himself from his quasi-judicial decision.

14:52 - Murdoch then texts Hunt. "Big few days. Well played," Murdoch texts. This was an olive branch, Hunt says, after a couple of difficult meetings. Jay suggests he is expression approval of the stage they have reached. Hunt says he is indicating he is not as angry as he thought he might have been. Hunt texts back: "Thanks, I think we got right solution." Jay says the next message sees him congratulate Hunt on his promotion to a post in New York. "I am sure u will really miss Ofcom in NY!" he wrote. Jay: "Ofcom was heavily involved wasn't it." Hunt: "I was pulling his leg." Then Murdoch texts: "Sadly I fear they won't see the back of me that easily! Hopefully we can move our other business forward soon…"

14:56 - "Were you at all uncomfortable communicating with Mr Murdoch in this way?" Jay asks. Hunt says there are "things we would learn". He again cites Michel-Smith rather than him and Murdoch, but says he thought courteous texts were not material and had no impact on his decisions. Hunt writes to the head of the prime minister's office (chief of staff Ed Llewellyn): "Am I offically allowed to talk to my boss now?" They say yes and well done.

14:59 - Hunt texts: "Not a single PMQ on Murdoch - I declare victory!"

15:01 - Hunt says that last text is just proof Labour had no ammunition, not evidence of some conspiracy. We move onto a bundle that are between Michel and Murdoch's team. Hunt says he's looked at them "more times than I care to mention." Jay says "issues arise" as to whether they are misrepresentations of Smith-Michel communication. We start with a reference to Hunt meeting a guy called Richards that day, Michel sets out what he told Richards. Is the summary correct? "Broadly speaking," Hunt confirms. Jay: "This is fresh evidence." Hunt says there is not much substance there that they didn't know. Hunt says most of these conversations are about Michel offering something and Smith accepting it.

15:06 - News Corp had already said they would not go ahead with the deal if it went to the CC, as it's very expensive. Hunt says Michel will have asked if Hunt knew that, and Smith replied yes. Hunt becomes quite defensive. "You've asked him about this email and he said he didn't recognise the language," he says. Next there is a plea to "find as many errors as we can". Smith says he doesn't recognise that language and Hunt agrees. "What we would have said to them is if you have any points put it in your document," Hunt says. Jay says the most damaging line is "he made a plea to find as many legal errors as we can". Hunt says the conversation was with Smith, "Smith says it wasn't him, so it certainly doesn't emanate from me".

15:11 - "I was totally shocked when I discovered the level of that contact and it explains why sometimes he slipped into inappropriate language," Hunt says. Jay: So is it Michel exaggerating, or Smith being inappropriate? Hunt says it's "inappropriate" to comment on the conversation of two other people.

15:14 - "We're getting into a game of trying to predict how Chinese whispers happen," he says. Jay says we know he wouldn't have used the word "Impactful". Leveson slaps Jay down: "Come on Mr Jay." Not the first time Leveson has stepped in to protect Hunt.

15:15 - Did Hunt say he shared their objective. "Not at all. I didn't share their objectives," he replies. A message fro Smith to Michel says they can't say the UIL are too brilliant or people will call for them to be published. It's passed on verbatim. Did he tell Smith something along those lines. Hunt says no, as Smith said he was trying to pacify Michel. Hunt: "News Corp were putting Smith under pressure to say these UILs were excellent. Smith was trying to find a reason why we weren't prepared to use that language. He didn't chose his words particularly carefully." Now we're on the "JH believes we're in a good place tonight". JH really means Smith, as a representative of Hunt's office. The text that came from was Smith saying that and Michel saying "coverage looks Ok, let's look again in the morning though." Did Hunt express the view that coverage put them in a good place? Hunt says he would have wanted the coverage to be fair.

15:24 - Did Hunt say "We just need space". He says no, he was running a process and it was going to take as long as it took. Hunt wants to offer an observation. "Smith is trying to say things to get Michel off his back. Quite an easy way to get someone off your back is to say 'I'm not allowed to by law'. That's hard to argue with. But Smith has never gone back and agitated about things Michel is trying to get him to achieve." Hunt is suggesting Smith is batting everything back - he is not following this stuff up with Hunt. He doesn't even contact Hunt when Michel says he might back off altogether. "The picture that emerges to me is someone trying very hard to keep a stakeholder on board in the process under huge pressure, but not someone giving them any substantive help."

15:27 - Ok, time for another ten minute break. Back in a bit.

15:39 - And we're back. Are you tired? I'm tired. However, there will e news and analysis of Hunt's chances, from yours truly, once today's session ends. Hunt says he rejects the "we need space" comment because it has the "implicit" sense they want the same destination. Jay tries to tempt him by saying they both wanted the right bid with satisfactory UILs.

15:41 - Jay says we know Hunt's thinking. he wanted the deal to happen. "Smith wasn't going way off piste." Hunt: "We knew what my thinking was until the bid. Once I took on the bid I had a much higher role to do, to make sure our democracy was safe." Jay: "Your mind had a series of Chinese walls in it at this point. Smith might find it difficult to differentiate between those two departments of your mind." Hunt: "I don't believe my mind had different compartments."

15:43 - Jay says you can't wipe away anterior thoughts. Hunt said he did and wiped it away because media plurality is so important. Jay reminds him he never sat down with Smith and told him to be careful in his dealings with other parties. "We had discussions we were all part of discussed in front of all of us. I think Smith understood that too. He was trying to deal with a difficult stakeholder, he wasn't trying to give them advantage." Jay: Smith , in his statement, said something different. He didn't know it was different to the role he would have in other functions. Jay quotes him saying he had no specific instruction so "I approached the matter in the same way I did in other practises I had been involved". This is damaging. Hunt failed to make sure his department was behaving quasi-judicially.

15:46 - "I wish he'd told us about the pressure he was under and the barrage he was facing. The consequences were very unfortunate." Jay says it's funny that someone so capable would misunderstand what this was all about. "The barrage he was subjected to, the amount of contact ended up pushing him into language that was inappropriate and we need to think hard about preventing that happening again in the future."

15:49 - Jay asks if the inappropriate comments were about him misrepresenting Hunt's thoughts or just saying truths he shouldn't have. Hunt insists he was just repeating stuff News Corp already knew. Jay says much of the material only has two possibilities. "Either it is your private thinking or it isn't." Hunt: "Show me any of those and I will tell you which it is."

15:51 - His role was to act as an official point of contact, to reassure them the process was fair. Jay suggests Hunt's point is that Smith should not have expressed any of his or Hunt's private views. "Part of the reason why his comments lapsed into inappropriate language... is the volume of contact." Leveson interjects: Smith had been working for him for many years. Would that have brought him into contact with Michel? Hunt says he may have met him in opposition, although his roles were different - starting as researcher and then chief of staff.

15:54 - Hunt says it was easier for Michel to "suck" Smith into inappropriate comments was because he wasn't a civil service bod. That's something which could fix it in the future, Hunt suggests. Big Swan Lake news. It wasn't Swan Lake at all! It was Black Swan!" That solves the mystery.

15:57 - Hunt says it is possible he discussed the bid then with Smith, after which he told Michel. Given they chatted immediately afterwards it's not unreasonable to deduce they were discussing the same thing. "We can deduce it's possible," Hunt says. The language comes up again - "we all know what Ofcom's intentions are". Hunt denies he would take like that and so does Smith. "The thing I recognise from this email is that News Corp had massive suspicions about Ofcom," Hunt says. Michel was "downloading his views of Ofcom and interpreting the odd grunt from Smith as agreement with what he was saying".

16:02 - Hunt insists he was not afraid to send the decision to the CC, although he looked pretty scared when he said it. His body language has gone back to normal, with his arms under the table. With no confidence at all, Hunt points at the papers and says: "I can help you. That was not my thought." (it was about the antis being down in the dumps. So we're back to Smith going too far or Michel exaggerating. "It may be Smith made a flippant comment - maybe they did look a bit miserable," Hunt says.

16:19 - Jay has not raised two important points: 1) That Hunt said he didn't make representations to the PM, which he did with the memo. Secondly that he gave News Corp prior sight of a parliamentary statement.

16:20 - "This was a deal that was incredibly unpopular with the whole of the rest of the media" so he didn't have a political motivation to get it all done quickly, Hunt argues. Jay says on political motivation: It chimes with your policy terms of what was desirable for the UK and the policy objectives of your party. Hunt says no, two Tory supporting newspaper group was against it and one for." There wouldn't have been a political reason to want this deal to go ahead." That seems like a brazen simplification to me.

16:26 - Leveson interjects (on a message where Smith calls a Commons debate "idiotic". Would Hunt expect Smith to share that sort of thing. Vernon Bogdanor, Cameron's former tutor, just told Sky: "There is no doubt in my mind that Jeremy Hunt has breached the ministerial code."

16:29 - "The closure of the NOTW does not affect JH decision and if anything helps our case by reducing plurality issue," one message reads. Hunt: "It's just wrong." He says it made him concerned. Then the message reads the Cabinet split on phone-hacking not the bid. Hunt says Smith wouldn't have known. Jay asks if it's factually true. "Hunt says he doesn't remember any hacking splits. There may have been discussions. They certainly couldn't discuss the bid, because it was quasi-judicial.

16:33 - Jay moves off the emails. "Conclusions can be drawn one way or another by your evidence about it," Jay says, slightly menacingly. We move on to a night when Hunt had a drink with Smith. He said that if the pressure became so great he would resign. Hunt remembers. The next morning Hunt goes to work. "There was a big storm going on. Smith again offered to resign. It was still very much my hope it wouldn't come to that. Discussions continued through the course of the morning. We didn't know as much as we knew then how much had exaggeration but we knew some language was inappropriate so we came to the conclusion with very heavy hearts that we would have to support his decision to resign." Jay: "Did you say 'everyone here thinks you need to go'?" Hunt: "Yes."

16:37 - Jay says theoretically it fell to his responsibility. Danger for Hunt here. He says yes. Jay: Did you originally believe Smith had done nothing wrong and tell friends you would resign yourself rather than let a junior official go?" Hunt: "I did think about my own position but I had conducted the bid scrupulously fairly. I decided it wouldn't be appropriate for me to go but with a heavy heart we didn't have any choice but to accept Adam's resignation."

16:39 - Jay suggests these are decisions which should not be taken by politicians like himself. He says it should be considered but insists the bid was conducted completely fairly. "What we didn't predict was the pressure Adam Smith was going to come under," he says. Leveson interjects. There was a triple lock: lawyers, Ofcom and OFT. That means he drops out the decision, but he will take the flack for all the decision. Hunt insists he wasn't dropping out the decision. "I tried to create a structure where I didn't have any political wriggle room."

16:42 - Leveson: If you've removed all political wriggle room and then say I'm keeping the position because I can choose not to follow the advice you've got some wriggle room. Good point. Hunt is all over the place, but he does make the valid point that any deviation from public account would have meant he would have to justify it. Leveson suggests that politics would walk straight back into it. Hunt disagrees. "You could ask if you give so much weight to independent regulators while not just give the whole decision to them like in competition law". Hunt says he has some sympathy with that view. Leveson: "That's precisely the point. This is slap bang in the middle of the terms of reference. He says in the context of his work he is dealing with these self same people across a wide range of issues and will continue doing so.

16:46 - Jay goes back to his central point. If Cable showed acute bias, then how was Hunt given the job. "We have a sort of irony here don't we and a request from others to you which should not have occurred." Hunt: "I don't accept it. I had views which were public but I set them to one side. If you look at the decisions I took it's clear there was no bias." Jay: "Even if you had said categorically 'I am in favour of the bid 100%' one minute before being given it you could have put in place the same system and there would have been, by your argument, no ability to question what you did." Hunt: "Yes, but I didn't say that."

16:53 - Hunt is now being asked questions about the future of regulation. He is encouraged by the degree of consensus around independent regulation. He says the mechanics of its working are up to Leveson. He wants to make two more observations. One, that many problems which concern the public are actually a matter of law. We've heard that one many times and Leveson had commented on it many times. His second point is a fundamental problem lies in the way the business model of the press is "dying on its feet".

16:59 - And with that, Jeremy Hunt finishes his evidence. It's been a very long week and I've been live blogging all of it. My fingers are burned, by brain is more cynical than it was on Monday, but then that's aging for you. I'll leave it there for now. In about ten minutes there will be a news story up, and after that I'll write comment on what we've seen today - and what Hunt's chances are. Leveson will be back Monday at 10am. Have a good weekend.

Get involved Get Involved