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New Hunt claim by BSkyB lobbyist
Pressure has been mounting on Jeremy Hunt after a News Corporation lobbyist suggested the Culture Secretary knew he was being fed details about the BSkyB bid.
Fred Michel said he believed some of the "feedback" he was given by special adviser Adam Smith in hundreds of telephone calls, emails and text messages had been "discussed" with Mr Hunt. But the public affairs executive was forced to deny accusations that he "puffed up" his contacts with the Cabinet minister's team to please Rupert and James Murdoch.
The comments came as Mr Michel gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry about the furore that surrounded News Corp's attempt to acquire the whole of BSkyB.
Mr Smith, who quit last month after admitting his contacts with Mr Michel - which included previews of Commons statements - were too close, will appear as a witness later.
Mr Michel said he never received legal advice on the rules surrounding a "quasi judicial" ministerial decision. Although he was aware that "direct discussions" with the Culture Secretary on the issue were banned, he regarded the extent of contacts with Mr Smith and others as "uncharted territory".
"I think we had discussions on the fact that it was very important that the decision rested with the Secretary of State, that it was not appropriate to have direct discussions with the Secretary of State unless they were formal and minuted," Mr Michel said.
"I was never of the opinion that it was inappropriate to at least try to put the arguments to or make representations to these officers."
Mr Michel tried to organise a meeting between James Murdoch and Mr Hunt in November 2010 - before he was handed responsibility for the bid. Mr Smith responded that the permanent secretary had advised that they should not meet personally.
In an email to Mr Murdoch, Mr Michel said: "My advice would be not to meet him today as it would be counterproductive for everyone but you could have a chat with him on his mobile, which is completely fine and I will liaise with his team privately as well."
Mr Michel told the inquiry that he was not certain whether the conversation took place, but it would have been a "quick call to the mobile to refer to the fact that they could not meet, apologise to each other and that is it".