HACKGATE: Andy Gray firing pours petrol on the flames

Soccer pundit sees dismissal as Newscorp revenge

Andy Gray…’furious at Sky tactics’


Hunt’s ‘obliged to discuss a compromise deal’ dismissed as nonsense by legal sources


Update 13.40: Miliband asks a pmq at last….about the Met Police….and Cameron defends Met to the hilt….this is turning into the slowest suicide in history

Another terrible day is dawning for both the Coalition and Newscorp. Following the brazen firing of football commentator Andy Gray by Sky News, with the trickle of phone-hacking suits turning into a flood – and new details emerging of clandestine meetings between the Prime Minister and James Murdoch – Hackgate looks like a scandal out of control.

Sky presenter Andy Gray will consult with lawyers this morning after being what he called “stitched up” by his employers over sexist comments – in retaliation for his suit against News of the World phone hacking. Quite why News International took such a risk at such a sensitive time remains open to question, although at least one source last night was claiming that the Murdoch group’s senior management were kept out of the loop about Sky’s plans for Gray.

Meanwhile, the heat continues to be turned up under Number Ten, the Met Police, and the News of the World following Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision yesterday to defer the referral of Newcorp’s proposed BSkyB takeover.

Yesterday, legal sources contacted by the Slog dismissed the Hunt Spin about the Enterprise Act ‘obliging’ him to refer the proposed deal as ‘nonsense’.

“The 2002 Enterprise Act in fact gives the power to the OFT to refer any deal about which there are doubts,” said one source, “It doesn’t even mention the Culture Secretary’s role, for the simple reason that in 2002 there was no such thing. Even Vince Cable would have had no power under the Act to overrule the OFT should it decide to refer”.

Meanwhile, Taylor Hampton, the London law firm specialising in anti-hack suits against Newscorp, issued a statement late yesterday observing that ‘at least eight other News International staff have been identified as having been potentially involved in the alleged hacking of celebrity mobile phones’. As The Slog predicted last week, these are felt to include both Rebekah Wade/Brooks and Andy Coulson himself.

Both the Home Affairs Committee chaired by Keith Vaz and Labour MP Tom Watson urged DPP boss Keir Starmer to prosecute the case urgently. Starmer himself issued a statement vowing ‘robust’ investigation of what he called ‘substantive new allegations’. This also puts former top security policeman Andy Hayman under the spotlight – a jaundiced light not helped by the fact that he too has been given a columnist job by Newscorp.

But inside News International yesterday afternoon, the mood was dubbed  ‘buoyant’ as senior executives saw Hunt’s deferral as a major victory for their cause. The City held a similar view, piling 6p onto the Newscorp share price.

“How on earth else would one see it?” asked a senior Fleet Street Beast yesterday morning, “the Ofcom Report effectively dictated a referral based on grave doubts about plurality. We suspect Hunt is going to tell the Murdochs what they need to do to avoid referral. That’s like knowing the figure that’s going to win a sealed-bids auction”.

Later yesterday, however, there were shaken heads on the subject of why Sky had chosen now to fire Andy Gray.

In the last week, senior advisers around David Cameron have continued to counsel the appointment of a Coulson successor entirely unconnected to the usual list of Newscorp suspects. But Cameron does face difficulties in finding the right person: freelancer Ian Birrell is said not to want such an onerous task, and Cameron fears that the former BBC reporter Guto Harri is far too close to the real enemy, Boris Johnson. Ben Brogan is emerging as a solid candidate, but many doubt whether he too would want the job at his time of life.

Last night, bookies continued to shorten the odds on Will Lewis, a man steeped in Murdochite contacts who counts both David Cameron and Andy Coulson as personal friends. One Tory MP described such a prospect as “asking for trouble” last night.

This Coalition has always been tainted by the leadership’s close connections to monopolist media moguls and greedy bankers. It’s in danger today of being torpedoed by them. Somebody at Number Ten needs to get a grip, and it isn’t going to be Steve Hilton.