Proposed change in letter would have implied Adam Smith had strayed beyond his remit, he tells Leveson inquiry
Number 10 tried to rewrite the resignation statement of Jeremy Hunt’s former special adviser using language that would have implied that the 30-year-old official had strayed beyond his remit in communicating with News Corporation about its BSkyB takeover bid.
Adam Smith told the Leveson inquiry on Friday that he objected to a last-minute rewrite to his resignation letter, which had been proposed by the office of cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. He successfully insisted that it be removed.
The special adviser also revealed that he had initially been told by Hunt, the culture secretary, that “it won’t come” to his resignation on 24 April, immediately after it emerged in evidence submitted to the Leveson inquiry that he had been in regular contact with the News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel during the company’s bid for BSkyB.
However, the following day Smith arrived at work only to be told by the culture secretary that “everybody here thinks you need to go”. The special adviser – who had previously been praised for his work – was handed a draft resignation letter to sign.
Colleagues of David Cameron’s most senior civil servant then requested that the first line in the proposed letter that was put out last month be amended to read: “While I believed it was my role to keep News Corporation informed”. The initial draft adopted a more neutral tone, and read: “While it was part of my role to keep News Corporation informed.”
However, Smith said he objected to the unexpected change because “the department had known that that’s what my role had been” and the original version was reinstated.
Smith has always said he was given the task of acting as a link between News Corp and Hunt during the period when the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was adjudicating on the Murdoch company’s £8bn bid for BSkyB.
Smith had been tipped off that as part of James Murdoch’s evidence the inquiry would see emails written by Michel and relating to their contact between June 2010 and July 2011. He watched Murdoch’s Leveson appearance live and shortly after met Hunt to offer his resignation on 24 April.
He said the culture secretary told him he did not think that would be necessary, and heard Smith’s version of events. Recalling their conversation, Smith said he told his former boss that the Michel emails “were a one-sided reflection and in many cases exaggerated”.
Smith then went for a drink with colleagues, where the mood was “very pressured and one of the most stressful days that I’d certainly had to deal with”. Overnight, however, pressure on Smith mounted – and when he arrived the next day Hunt made it clear that he would have to quit.
The former special adviser described the conversation at the critical meeting with his boss: “We did discuss how we’d enjoyed working with each other and how it was going to be tough and it wasn’t just a one-line conversation, no.”
Smith added that he had offered to resign because “I thought by this stage that the perception had been created that something untoward had gone on”.
On the day he left, Smith also received a private note from Jonathan Stephens, the DCMS permanent secretary, praising his work. Stephens wrote: “I’ve seen many special advisers – you have undoubtedly [been] the best and straightest. You’ve worked smoothly and professional … You’ve given great service to Jeremy … How you left today was characteristic of the selfless and self-effacing way that you’ve approached your role.”