FORMER Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister David Cameron both escaped largely unscathed from the Leveson Report after months of criticism over their close links to News International.
Mr Hunt – now the Health Secretary – came under massive pressure to resign earlier in the year after evidence was presented to the inquiry of the close relationship between his office and the media giant at the very time he was adjudicating on the company’s proposed takeover of BSkyB.
Labour had accused Mr Hunt of acting on behalf of News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch in waving the deal through – but Lord Justice Leveson said there was no evidence Mr Hunt acted improperly.
The judge’s only criticism of the Minister was of his failure to take closer control of his special advisor Adam Smith, who was forced to resign in April after the publication of a string of text messages he exchanged with News International lobbyist Fred Michel.
Responding, Mr Hunt said: “I welcome the fact the report states that not only was there no evidence of actual bias on my part in the handling of the BSkyB bid, but that I put in place robust systems to ensure it would be handled with impartiality.
“However, I have always accepted lessons needed to be learned, in particular with respect to the role of special advisers.”
Speaking in the Commons, the Prime Minister said Labour should apologise for its repeated attacks on Mr Hunt and that his party had been “right” to stand by him.
Mr Cameron also escaped any significant criticism in the report, as did Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was said to have acted “with scrupulous care and impartiality” while he was overseeing the BSkyB bid – despite having been caught on tape saying he was opposed to the takeover.
Indeed, the only politician to be criticised in the report was Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who Lord Justice Leveson said would have knowingly led UK ministers to break the law if it advanced Scottish interests.
Mr Salmond displayed a “striking” readiness to lobby Mr Cable and Mr Hunt on behalf of NewsCorp, although did not actually do so.
“Plurality was the only consideration which could legitimately have been taken into account by the Secretary of State,” said Lord Justice Leveson.
“Acceding to Mr Salmond’s argument would have rendered the decision unlawful.”