Top adviser forced to stand down over contact with lobbyist

Marion Dakers
GOVERNMENT adviser Adam Smith admitted yesterday he had gone “too far” in his correspondence with News Corp during its BSkyB bid – then went one step further, by resigning.

Smith, one of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s most senior advisers, fell on his sword after a string of emails released to the Leveson inquiry showed him passing information and advice on Hunt’s BSkyB probe to News Corp execs.

News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel said his source of information from within Hunt’s office was “almost invariably” Smith, to the extent that Michel referred to “Jeremy” and “JH” when relaying Smith’s thoughts back to boss James Murdoch and others at the company.

Smith appeared to have a direct line to Hunt when it came to News Corp. “Jeremys [sic] response to this – ‘persuasive’,” he told Michel after receiving a briefing note in October 2010.

And in May 2011, Smith forwarded Michel an open letter Hunt had written about TV regulation a day before it was released, with the warning: “Not published until later/tomorrow so keep it to yourself for now.”

But the emails do not paint Smith as unfailingly helpful. After Michel badgered him for a meeting with culture minister Ed Vaizey, Smith gave a terse reply: “You cannot seriously think that Ed meeting with News Corp whilst the deal is going on wouldn’t be an issue.”

Hunt paid tribute to his adviser’s “integrity” yesterday and spoke of his regret at the decision to stand down.

Opposition politicians jumped on Smith’s resignation as evidence of wrongdoing. Labour MP Dennis Skinner declared in Parliament: “When posh boys are in trouble, they sack the servants.”