Ex-News International chief denied lobbying David Cameron in ‘exercise of power’

By Hui Shan Khoo | 27 November 2012

Ex-News International boss Rebekah Brooks set out to “persuade” the UK government to launch a review of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in Portugal.

She conceded this much in her testimony to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into newspaper practices. But the former chief executive of News International (NI) denied personally pressing David Cameron, prime minister, in what the inquiry’s counsel suggested was “a case study… in the exercise of power”.

Cameron is accused of bowing to pressure from NI executives in May 2011 to order British police to review Madeleine’s case.

“Were you part of a strategy that involved your paper putting pressure on the government with this sort of implied or express threat?”
– Lord Justice Leveson’s question to Rebekah Brooks, NI chief executive

Exaro has learnt that Leveson’s inquiry team received a confidential briefing about NI’s private lobbying of Cameron for the review.

The source told Exaro that the lobbying was not carried out by Brooks herself, but by other corporate NI executives.

A second source close to the McCann family confirmed this.

Nonetheless, Brooks was questioned in May at the Leveson inquiry about her role.

Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, asked her: “Did you not tell Downing Street that The Sun was going to demand a review and the prime minister should agree to the request because The Sun had supported him at the last election?”

Brooks denied it.

Jay asked: “You do not believe that there was any conversation or indeed threat to the secretary of state? Is that right?”

Brooks: “I am pretty sure that there would have not been a threat.”

Jay: “It is said that you directly intervened with the prime minister and warned him that unless there was a review by the Metropolitan Police, The Sun would put the home secretary, Theresa May, on the front page every day until The Sun’s demands were met. Is that true or not?”

Brooks also denied this claim.

Leveson intervened: “Were you part of a strategy that involved your paper putting pressure on the government with this sort of implied or express threat?”

Brooks: “I was certainly part of a strategy to launch the campaign in order to get the review for the McCanns, yes. But I think that the word ‘threat’, sir, is too strong.”

Leveson: “Well, give me another word then for ‘threat’, could you?”

Brooks: “Persuade them?”

Leveson: “Persuasion. All right.”

Jay asked: “Do you know how it came about that the review was ordered?”

Brooks said that she could not remember.

Pressed, she said: “I remember Dominic Mohan [The Sun’s editor] telling me that the review was going ahead.”

Jay: “That The Sun had won, in other words?”

Brooks: “He did not put it in those terms… I think that he said: ‘The McCanns have won.’”

Jay: “The Sun headline on May 14, front page, was that, as a result of its campaign, the prime minister was ‘opening the Maddie files.’ Do you remember that one?”

Brooks: “I remember The Sun winning the campaign, the McCanns winning the campaign, yes.”

Jay: “So, this is not, you say, a case study, then, in the exercise of power by you? I am not suggesting that the end result was right or wrong. Many would say that it was right, that there should be a review. I am just saying that the means by which you achieved the objective –”

Brooks: “But it could be said that a review of Madeleine McCann’s case, with everything that had gone on, was the right thing to do. We presented the issue. We supported the McCanns in their determination to get a review.”

Within a day of The Sun publishing an open letter from Madeleine’s parents on the front page pleading for a review, Cameron’s government agreed to it.

Jay suggested to Brooks that the government quickly “yielded to your pressure.”

Brooks responded: “Or perhaps they were convinced by our argument.”

Jay observed: “There are always two sides to the coin here, that, of course, everybody would say, on one level, money should be spent. But the campaign to date, I am told, has cost £2 million, and some would say maybe that money might have gone somewhere else. It is never clear cut, is it?

Brooks: “What, the Madeleine McCann campaign?”

Meanwhile, Cameron told Leveson that he “did not remember any sort of specific pressure being put on me.”

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