Rupert Murdoch at Leveson inquiry

Rupert Murdoch: 'I've never asked a prime minister for anything'

A secret meeting between Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher about his bid for the Times was "quite appropriate" and "perfectly right", Murdoch told the Leveson inquiry today.

The News Corporation chairman was asked by Robert Jay QC about the meeting at Chequers in January 1981, a note of which by the prime minister's press secretary Bernard Ingham was made public last month.

At the meeting - three weeks before he put in a successful bid for the loss-making Times and its Sunday sister title - Murdoch outlined his plans to turn around the group and that he was "prepared to take losses for a limited, but unspecified period".

Murdoch told the Leveson inquiry today that he still did not recall the meeting, but said: "I still don't, to be honest, but I totally accept Mr Ingham's detailed minutes which sound to me to be correct."

He said: "I thought it was quite appropriate. I thought it was perfectly right that she should know what was at stake.

"I don't think she did know the extent of the costs and the risks, and I'm sure she was interested."

Responding to a suggestion that Murdoch was asking for Thatcher to support his bid, he replied: "I've never asked a prime minister for anything. I didn't expect any help from her, nor did I ask for any."

Murdoch's bid to take over the title was widely expected to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, because he already owned the Sun and the News of the World. Critics at the time suggested that Thatcher had waved the deal through, but this has been denied ever since.

Sir Harold Evans, whose management buyout attempt for the Sunday Times was defeated by Murdoch's bid, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme last month that Thatcher and Murdoch appeared to have "cooked a deal".

He said: "It's highly improper. Here's a prime minister meeting one of a number of bidders for Times Newspapers in secret. There's no mention of the law on monopolies.

"The whole thing is so squalid, I don't know whether to laugh or cry at being vindicated after all this time."

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