Andrew Neil: 'Did Murdoch forget he was under oath?'

Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil has questioned the accuracy of Rupert Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry insisting that his former boss Rupert Murdoch did use his media influence to receive special treatment from UK politicians.

In written evidence to the inquiry yesterday Neil questioned whether he had “forgotten he was testifying under oath” when he told the Leveson Inquiry he had never asked politicians for anything.

Neil, who was Sunday Times editor between 1983 and 1994, told inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson of Murdoch’s ideological “soul mates” relationship with former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher – now Lady Thatcher.

And he said he remembered an incident in late 1985 – shortly before an industrial dispute at Murdoch’s new printing plant in Wapping, east London.

“There was at least one time … when Mr Murdoch’s support for Mrs Thatcher paid business dividends and undermines the accuracy of his claim to the inquiry that he has never asked politicians for anything,” said Neil, in his statement.

“In the run up to the Wapping dispute he made it clear to me one night in late 1985 in my office that he had gone to Mrs Thatcher to get her assurance – to ‘square Thatcher’ in his words – that enough police would be made available to allow him to get his papers out past the massed pickets at Wapping once the dispute got under way.

“She was fully ‘squared’, he reported: she had given him assurances on the grounds that she was doing no more than upholding the right of his company to go about its lawful business.

“I remember this because he added that he could never have got the same assurances from the mayor of New York or the NYPD, which was why, he told me, he could not ‘do a Wapping’ on his US newspapers, despite the grip of the print unions there too.”

Neil also said New Labour did nothing to threaten Murdoch’s British media interests, kicked demands for a privacy law into the “long grass”, “tolerated” a 37 per cent control of national newspaper circulation, “resolutely repelled” tougher cross-ownership rules and “paved the way” for Murdoch’s News Corporation to attempt to buy the 60 per cent of BSkyB it did not own.

“This was something Mr Murdoch’s people lobbied hard for, with his support, and they had unique and extensive access to the levers of power at the heart of the Blair government to make this lobbying effective,” added Neil.

“When Mr Murdoch testified before this inquiry that he had never asked government for anything it gave me cause to wonder if he had forgotten this – or forgotten he was testifying under oath.”

Neil said Murdoch had a “virtual ringside seat” at the Labour cabinet on the issues of Europe and Iraq…A Labour minister once said to me that when it came to these issues ‘Rupert Murdoch was the 24th member of the Blair cabinet’.”

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