• Cable: News Corp’s Michel issued ‘veiled threats’ over Sky bid
• Murdochs exercised ‘disproportionate political influence’
• Admits his self-discipline ‘broke down momentarily’
is now live. John Plunkett and Dan Sabbagh report:Our full story on Cable’s allegations of “veiled threats” from News Corp
Vince Cable has told the Leveson inquiry that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation made “veiled threats” that if he did not approve the company’s BSkyB takeover his Liberal Democrat party would be “done over” by its newspapers.
The business secretary – who was responsible for adjudicating on the Sky bid in its early stages – said that he had heard about the company’s apparently aggressive stance “directly and indirectly from colleagues”, who he did not name.
Cable added that he thought “somebody used the phrase ‘done over’ by the News International press” and that “I took those things seriously.”
He said that he believed that the threats emerged “in conversation” between Lib Dem colleagues and News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel, adding “but I can’t be absolutely certain”.
Pressed by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, if Michel’s name was “expressly mentioned to you” by, Cable said that “it was at that stage, yes indeed”.
The cabinet minister said that he told by “one individual” that Michel had said this “but he told me in confidence and I don’t want to breach that confidence”.
He added that he refused to be intimidated by these veiled threats in his handling of the News Corp/BSkyB deal.
At the end of nearly three hours of scrutiny, Cable was challenged about his claims by Rhodri Davies, counsel for News International. The minister said he had no record of the meeting with the person who told him about Michel’s alleged remarks, and he refused to name the individual concerned. Cable said the conversation happened “in the period after I made the intervention notice” on 4 November 2010 and 21 December, when he was stripped of responsibility for the bid.
Replying, Davies said “without knowing who is supposed to have been threatened and when it’s extremely difficult for Mr Michel or anyone else to respond to the allegation”. Cable agreed and said “I’m trying to explain the context” in which he made is “war on Murdoch” comments. “I’m not seeking to build up a case against Mr Michel,” Cable added.
You can read the full story here.
Here is a lunchtime summary of Vince Cable’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry:
• Cable claims he was told that News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel made “veiled threats” to Lib Dem colleagues over BSkyB bid.
• He told the inquiry he was “seriously disturbed” and felt “under siege” by News Corp approaches to Lib Dem colleagues while he had responsibility for £8bn takeover.
• A News Corp lawyer questioned the source of “veiled threat” remarks and said it was difficult for Michel to respond.
• Rupert Murdoch had “disproportionate influence” on British politics and was too close to some politicians, said Cable.
• Cable felt it was not necessary to meet News Corp about BSkyB deal; special advisers had no involvement.
• Andy Coulson has been detained by Strathclyde police over perjury allegations.
• The Daily and Sunday Mirror editors have been sacked as the titles go seven-day.
The inquiry has now broken for lunch and will resume at 2pm with evidence from Ken Clarke.
Cable is asked about his “veiled threats” accusation about News Corp’s Fred Michel.
He confirms he is not prepared to name the source of the information. The conversation occured at the end of 2010 but he did not make a note of the meeting or date, Cable says.
“It was in the context of the conversation that my colleague had had,” Cable says, adding that he does not know when the conversation was.
I think if I take you back. I’m trying to explain the context in which I made my own comments in a private and confidential conversation and what it was that made me seriously disturbed by the way News International was operation … I’m not trying to build up a case against Mr Michel, just trying to explain what I was thinking.
Davies asserts that News Corp did not want the bid to be politicised.
Cable says he just had to deal with the facts as they were presented.
Davies says that the risk of not meeting News Corp is that “a lot of speculation would build up about your state of mind” about the bid.
Cable says there was speculation in any case.
Davies asks if he agrees that News Corp did not want the bid politicised at the start.
Murdoch’s position was that he had a strong argument on statutory tests, Cable says, and that is the way he approached it.
Davies asks whether it really was wrong for Cable to have a meeting with News Corp representatives to ensure he understood the arguments.
Cable says this would have presented a perception of bias, that he understood the documentation and felt it unneccessary to have a face-to-face meeting.
Davies asks Cable about meetings with News Corp.
Cable says if the BSkyB bid was on the agenda at meetings with News International or News Corp employees present he could not discuss it.
Rhodri Davies QC, for News International, rises to ask Cable some further questions.
Cable says he has a view on the future of media regulation, though he is not an expert in the field. He believes that an Ofcom for the press would be “too intrusive and compromise the freedom of the press”, but a “wholly permissive” system presents problems of its own.
He cautiously suggests a statutory architecture – similar to the medical profession, he says – which allows for self-regulation but also for discipline.
“It’s clear that there are issues that do need addressing at present,” Cable says, adding that libel complainants need somewhere to turn other than the courts.
Those who are defamed by newspapers should have a right of reply, he adds.
Leveson asks why the Daily Telegraph came after Cable and his Lib Dem colleagues.
“I don’t think that’s difficult to understand,” says Cable, claiming that the Telegraph was overtly hostile to Lib Dem coalition members because the paper wanted an outright Tory government.
He says that is why the Telegraph targeted his and his colleagues’ private and confidential conversations with constituents.
Leveson does not respond.
Cable says he was “angry” with himself at what had happened but understood there was no alternative but to transfer responsibility for the BSkyB bid to another department.
Leveson says that the correspondence between Michel and government departments suggests “external influences” were in play, posing the question whether politicians are too exposed to have responsibility for such big business decisions.
Cable says it is an important democratic function carried out by elected people, but believes this should be achieved with appropriate “checks, balances and legal protections”.
Cable says politicians have been progressively removed from business competition decisions, but there is a “small residue” left over to deal with cases in the national interest.
“In practice, the issue is whether they have chosen the right areas to ringfence for semi-political [oversight],” he adds.
Cable admits his self-discipline “broke down momentarily”, but that he did follow a prescribed process overall, taking advice from lawyers and officials.
I would not be comfortable with abandoning a complex arrangement with something which seeks comfort … in a purely judicial route.
Lord Justice Leveson says that when the press is involved people will have opinions and it becomes difficult to separate personal from professional views.
He asks whether the public is expecting too much of politicians who have gone through the campaign fire to be able to put aside personal views when making professional decisions.
The Guardian’s Severin Carrell has just tweeted:
— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) May 30, 2012
The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:
Hmm. Not gone into this in enough depth. Why did cable think he was targeted; how did “war on murdoch” convo go; who threatened Libs + how
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) May 30, 2012
Cable needs to back up his News Corp ‘threats’ assertion: it is too loosely drawn for evidence or for a minister to make
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) May 30, 2012
The Daily Telegraph is criticised by the Press Complaints Commission today for secretly recording conversations between Liberal Democrat ministers and having reporters pose as constituents.
It upholds a complaint lodged last year by the party’s president, Tim Farron MP, over the paper’s use of subterfuge, ruling that the stories the Telegraph published as a result did not justify the methods it employed.
“On this occasion, the commission was not convinced that the public interest was such as to justify proportionately this level of subterfuge,” the PCC says.
The undercover reporters taped Vince Cable boasting he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch when, as business secretary, he was due to rule on whether News Corporation should be allowed to take full control of BSkyB. The story was leaked to the BBC, which reported it the day before it appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 21 December.
Cable came close to being sacked and was stripped of his power to rule on media mergers by David Cameron, who handed them to the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The paper also recorded separate conversations with other Lib Dems, including employment minister Ed Davey, who privately said he was opposed to housing and child benefit cuts despite defending coalition savings in October 2010.
The PCC, an industry body financed by newspaper and magazine publishers, says clandestine use of recording devices breaches the editors’ code of conduct, which it enforces.
This states that papers “must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices or hidden devices including tape recorders and cameras”. Subterfuge is also outlawed unless there is a strong public interest.
The PCC acknowledges in its ruling: “there was a fine balance to be struck”. But it said it “did not believe that the Telegraph – although acting no doubt with legitimate intent – had sufficient grounds, on a prima facie basis, to justify their decision to send the reporters in”.
It added it had consistently advised newspapers not to go on “fishing expeditions” in the hope of finding stories and said it would be issuing futher guidance on the subject.
The Daily Telegraph editor, Tony Gallagher, says the paper accepts the ruling but adds in a statement that the PCC adjudication “has alarming implications for the future of investigative journalism”.
The paper told the Commission it had received information from numerous anonymous sources, including voters as well as senior political figures, that Liberal Democrat ministers were contradicting their publicly-stated views in private. Its owner Telegraph Media Group told the PCC it had sought to expose this contradiction by sending in reporters and that it had been in the public interest to do so. It denied it had been on a “fishing expedition” because it had acted on tip off from politicians and the public.
Gallagher said: “We had a duty to investigate their conduct and…..to be effective the use of subterfuge was necessary. Our revelations led to the demotion of a member of the Cabinet, apologies from a string of junior ministers and condemnation from their party leader.”
He added that the decision: “Increases the obstacles facing newspapers wishing to carry out legitimate inquiries based on material which is often by its nature incomplete – and it limits their ability to expose matters of legitimate public interest which those in positions of power would rather shield from public view.”
Cable maintains that he acted properly and put the bid in the hands of the regulators.
News Corp representatives were trying to build up a case that the takeover case was politically motivated, Cable says.
Cable is asked about the source for his “veiled threats” claim.
He says it came from one individual who told him in confidence, but refuses to identify this person. He then refers to this Observer report from July 2011.
The Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll has just tweeted:
Cable: I had been told that if I made the wrong decision on BSkyB bid the Lib Dems would be ‘done over’ by News International #Leveson
— lisa o’carroll (@lisaocarroll) May 30, 2012
The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh has just tweeted:
Cable says Michel issued “veiled threats” against Lib Dems if bid approval didn’t go Murodch’s way. Wow.
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) May 30, 2012
Cable says he wanted to make the point that he refused to be intimidated by the “veiled threats” over the bid.
Jay asks Cable what he meant by “his whole empire was under attack”. Cable says he was describing the controversy around the company at the time, relating to phone hacking.
Cable confirms that he had been told these “veiled threats” came in conversations with Michel “but can’t be absolutely certain”.
Cable says in his witness statement that he also felt “under siege” from News Corp, as Lib Dem colleagues had been approached by Michel about the bid.
More seriously, I had heard directly and indirectly that there had been veiled threats that my party would be done over in the News International press. I took those things seriously and I was very concerned.
Cable does not dispute he made the controversial remarks.
He tells the inquiry that the tone and strength of his language was influenced by two factors, the first being a “near riot” outside his constituency office at the time.
“I was struggling to keep my temper in this situation,” he says. “I was in an extremely tense and emotional frame of mind.”
Cable says he offloaded “pent-up feelings” in language he would not normally use to the two undercover Telegraph reporters.
Jay turns to the Daily Telegraph sting operation on 21 December 2010.
Cable was secretly recorded telling undercover reporters that he had declared “war on Murdoch” and blocked the tycoon’s takeover bid for BSkyB.
Cable was then stripped of responsibility for the bid, which was subsequently transferred to Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary.
Cable says he did not discuss the merits of the BSkyB bid with Hunt, Osborne, Hunt or Clegg before 21 December 2010.
Jay turns to a string of emails between Cable’s adviser, Wilkes, and News Corp’s Fred Michel.
Wilkes turned down a meeting in no uncertain terms. Cable says he was acting entirely properly.
Cable is asked about the identity of the “Lib Dem MP and former Sky employee” referred to by Michel.
“I didn’t know we had one,” he says. “I’m totally mystified as to who this is.”
The inquiry has resumed and Cable disputes another claim by Michel, that Labour and Lib Dem MPs wrote to him on the takeover.
The Guardian’s Severin Carrell has just tweeted:
— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) May 30, 2012
The inquiry is now taking a short break.
Cable says it is “wildly inaccurate” that he speaks to senior Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott about 10 times a day, as claimed by Michel in an email.
Cable says he briefed Nick Clegg on the process of the deal.
“He was my party leader, I needed to give him an appropriate level of briefing,” he adds.
Cable says in his witness statement he and other Lib Dems felt “under siege” from News Corp during the BSkyB bid process. This is partly why he made the “war on Murdoch” comments to undercover Daily Telegraph reporters.
The confrontational way in which my personal views of News Corporation were expressed was due to reports coming back to me of how News Corporation representatives had been approaching several of my Liberal Democrat colleagues in a way I judged to be inappropriate. The reports suggested that News Corporation representatives were either trying to influence my views or seeking material which might be used to challenge any adverse ruling I might make, following the completion of the Ofcom report. These colleagues expressed some alarm about whether this whole affair was going to lead to retribution against the Liberal Democrats through News International newspapers. As it happens evidence of these reports was later borne out in an article by Toby Helm in the Observer on 23 July 2011 (which I have included in exhibit “VC 1”). This added a sense of being under siege from a well organised operation. Coming from a party that had hitherto been at best ignored by News International, this was a new and somewhat unsettling experience. I could not help contrast this behaviour with that of other parties to the case who were content to make written submissions or other cases (like Northern & Shell).
The inquiry hears that Michel also interpreted a conversation with the Lib Dem MP Dom Foster, in which Foster was said to be “relaxed about the bid decision”.
Foster was not invovled in the decision, which is why he was likely to be relaxed, Cable tells Leveson.
Cable is asked to comment on Michel’s claim in an email to James Murdoch that the pair’s call had “gone very well”. Michel said “we should have recorded him” in the email.
Cable disputes Michel’s interpretation of the call. A note would have been made by officials listening in, he says, and he would have been “taken to task” by officials if this was the case.
has now been published on the Leveson inquiry website.Cable’s witness statement
Cable endorses the description of special advisers as the “eyes and ears” and a “buffer” for ministers, as coined by Adam Smith, the resigned special adviser to Jeremy Hunt.
Cable is asked about his special advisers.
Giles Wilkes, his lead economic special adviser, had no responsibility to speak for Cable on the bid because they were aware of the sensitivities, he says.
Wilkes and Katie Waring, Cable’s special adviser on the media, knew they should approach the deal with great care, he adds.
Wilkes declined a meeting with Michel, adding that there were “compelling reasons” not to meet him.
Cable says he “did not think it appropriate” to have a discussion with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt about the bid, because it was his personal task in a quasi-judicial capacity.
He is not aware of any attempt by Hunt to speak to him about the bid.
Cable says that no cabinet colleagues contacted him on media policy or the merits of the BSkyB bid.
Our story on the dramatic departure of editors Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver from the Mirror titles is now live. Mark Sweney reports:
Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver, editors of Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, have been dramatically ousted as the two Trinity Mirror titles move to a seven-day publishing model.
Wallace and Weaver are understood to have been called to the office of Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Trinity Mirror’s national titles, on Tuesday morning and told their fate. Lloyd Embley, editor of the People, will take over the editorship of the two titles with immediate effect.
The brutal axing of the two long serving editors comes a day after David Grigson officially took over as Trinity Mirror chairman, two months earlier than originally planned. Last month when he was still chairman designate Grigson engineered the departure of chief executive Sly Bailey, who is leaving at the end of the year.
Trinity Mirror is now seeking to appoint an editor for the Daily Mirror for weekdays and a weekend editor, which would combine the editorship of the Mirror’s Saturday edition and the Sunday Mirror, with both roles reporting to Embley. A new editor of the People will be also appointed.
Cable says he did not wish to be direspectful to Murdoch by turning down a meeting, but gave it careful thought and decided that it was “not appropriate”.
Cable met James Harding, editor of the Times, on 9 December 2010, Jay says.
The BSkyB bid was discussed, and Harding commented on News Corp’s “considerable contribution to the economy”.
Cable says that he did not meet Harding as a “News Corp representative” but as the editor of the Times. He told Harding at the meeting that he could not have a discussion on the substance of the deal, which Harding accepted.
Cable had publicly announced weeks previously his intention to intervene in the bid.
Cable was invited to a News International drinks reception the following night, but “felt it inappropriate to attend,” Jay says, reading from the business secretary’s statement.
Frédéric Michel, the News Corp lobbyist, repeatedly asked Cable’s private secretary about lining up a meeting with James Murdoch, the inquiry hears.
“The key reason is because I didn’t actually think it was necessary, because they had the option to put their views in writings, as they did so,” he adds.
Jay refers to a note of a “courtesy call” conversation between James Murdoch and Cable on 15 June 2010.
Cable says he was in listening mode and careful not to express a view one way or the other on the bid. A note of the call was taken by an official.
“There was no off-the-cuff opinion on the merger, no,” Cable says.
My views about this company were actually quite nuanced. I did think there was dispoportionate political influence and some politicians got too close to them. But I never had a bad experience myself at the hands of News International newspapers.
Cable decided to intervene in the bid on public interest grounds on 4 November 2010. He says that a change in ownership of the satellite broadcaster – which provided news to commercial radio and Channel 5, he points out – could have had wide ramifications.
Cable was advised there was a “real possibility” that his decision to intervene in the BSkyB bid could be subject to a judicial review by News Corporation, but deciding not to intervene could also be challenged by BT and opposition groups.
We are getting news that the editor of the Daily Mirror, Richard Wallace, and the Sunday Mirror, Tina Weaver, are to leave the publisher as it moves to a seven-day operation. Josh Halliday has just tweeted:
NEW Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace and Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver made redundant as Trinity Mirror moves to 7-day publishing
— Josh Halliday (@JoshHalliday) May 30, 2012
Lloyd Embley, serving editor of the People, to edit Daily and Sunday Mirror. People will appoint new editor.
— Josh Halliday (@JoshHalliday) May 30, 2012
Jay is taking Cable through various legal advice he received while he had quasi-judicial authority for the bid.
Cable sent formal replies to groups that sent him submissions on the BSkyB bid.
A reply from August 2010 says Cable is grateful for the submission, which will be taken into account. He wrote that the law constrains his decision-making.
is now live. Severin Carrell writes:Our story on Andy Coulson‘s detention by police for suspected perjury
Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former director of communications and ex-News of the World editor, has been detained by Strathclyde police on suspicion of committing perjury.
A police spokeswoman said: “I can confirm officers from Strathclyde police’s Operation Rubicon team detained a 44-year-old man in London this morning under Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure Scotland Act on suspicion of committing perjury at the high court in Glasgow.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further in this case.”
Cable says he was aware that James Murdoch wanted to meet and discuss the bid.
Other groups, such as 38 Degrees, wanted to meet but Cable rejected that too, he says.
Jay asks why Cable actively sought the views of Lib Dem colleagues.
Cable says he wanted background guidance on media policy.
Cable was first aware of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB on 15 June 2010, when it was publicly announced. James Murdoch notified Cable of the bid, he says, but the business secretary felt no urgency to receive representations.
Cable adds that he was notified by James Murdoch of “the intention to proceed” in November 2010.
Cable is asked how the avoidance of bias would be avoided.
He says there are procedures and legal checks and balances at every stage.
He adds that his actions were subject to advice from officials and lawyers who knew that if a biased decison was made, legal action could be taken through an appeals tribunal.
Cable says in his witness statement that the secretary of state can accept undertakings in lieu before the takeover is referred to the Competition Commission.
He adds that the decision “must be taken with an independent mind. With an independent mind doesn’t mean with a blank mind. Most people in public life have views … and the requirement on me is to set those on one side for the sake of making this decision. Taking representations, facts … and making a decision on that, and only on that.”
Cable says it was his responsibility to judge whether there was an issue of plurality from News Corp’s proposed BSkyB takeover.
Cable says he had experience of quasi-judicial decisions while he was a councillor in Glasgow.
If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in a circus.
Business secretary Vince Cable takes the stand at the Leveson inquiry.
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, is leading the questioning.
We will bring you more details on the Coulson story as we have them.
Here is the Strathclyde police statement, as reported by STV:
Officers acting for Strathclyde police Operation Rubicon detained a 44-year-old man in London this morning under section 14 of the Criminal Procedure Scotland Act on suspicion of committing perjury at the high court in Glasgow. It would be inappropriate to comment further in this case.
The Guardian’s Esther Addley has just tweeted from the Julian Assange appeal hearing:
#Assange loses extradition appeal
— esther addley (@estheraddley) May 30, 2012
suggested last week that the 71-year-old minister might leave government soon.Conservative peer Lord Brooke, who served alongside Clarke in the cabinet under Margaret Thatcher and John Major,
He told the inquiry:
I had dinner with him [Clarke] quite recently, and he did say he was finding red boxes at night slightly more trying than he had done in his youth.
So how long he will be willing to be in a frontline position, I don’t know.
Good morning and welcome to the Leveson inquiry live blog.
The business secretary, Vince Cable, will today give detailed evidence about his handling of News Corporation’s abandoned bid for BSkyB.
The Liberal Democrat minister was stripped of his responsibilities for the £8bn takeover bid in December 2010 after being secretly recorded by the Daily Telegraph saying he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch.
His controversial removal led to the handover of quasi-judicial oversight of the bid to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had previously expressed public support for the takeover to go ahead.
Cable is expected to be pressed on why his office appeared to shun all lobbying efforts by News Corp public affairs boss Frédéric Michel while he was in charge of the deal. His evidence is likely to bring fresh scrutiny on Hunt’s handling of the bid between December 2010 and July 2011. Hunt will face a full day of questions at the inquiry tomorrow.
The justice secretary, Ken Clarke, will also give evidence today.
Clarke entered government in 1985 under Margaret Thatcher and later held numerous cabinet positions, including health secretary, education secretary, home secretary and chancellor of the exchequer.
Clarke was described by the Labour MP Tom Watson last week as a “target MP” for the Sun because he is “prepared to make decisions not based on how it would be reported by tabloid newspapers”.
The inquiry begins at 10am.
Please note that comments have been switched off for legal reasons.