UK PM Cameron Says He Did Ride The Gift Horse

Published March 2, 2012 5:00PM (EST)

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron stood before the world's media Friday and finally admitted: Yes, he had ridden the horse.

News that the Metropolitan Police had entrusted a retired police horse named Raisa to former News International chief Rebekah Brooks and her horse-trainer husband Charlie provided light relief this week amid the phone hacking and bribery scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers.

Police have insisted the 22-year-old horse was not a gift to Brooks, who has since resigned her top media job and been arrested and questioned, but not charged, in the scandal.

But Cameron is a good friend of the couple, and questions about the horse pursued him all the way to a European summit.

"Before the election (in May 2010), yes, I did go riding" with Charlie Brooks, Cameron told a news conference in Brussels. "He has a number of horses and, yes, one of them was this former police horse Raisa, which I did ride."

That appeared to violate the police department's policy, spelled out on its website, that horses are retired to "homes where the horse will not be ridden."

However, the police force said Friday that some retired horses are loaned out in rideable condition, and that Raisa was one such horse. Police say the horse was later sent back to the police department and has since died of natural causes.

During the week, Cameron's staff had parried the horse questions with jokes or evasions, for which he apologized.

"I don't think I will be getting back into the saddle any time soon," Cameron said.

Whether Rebekah Brooks' custody of the horse was improper or not, it touched on sensitive issues: the relationship between Murdoch's British papers and the police, allegedly including bribery of officers and favoritism by the force, and the papers' relationship with Cameron.

"The saga of the horse may seem trivial, " said Tom Watson, a member of Parliament who has pursued allegations about criminality at Murdoch's papers. "(However) it's further evidence of the intensely close relationship between executives at News International and the Metropolitan Police."

Murdoch himself leaped into the fray earlier in the week, tweeting: "Now they are complaining about R Brooks saving an old horse from the glue factory!"

For cartoonists, the horse was irresistible.

The Guardian's Steve Bell depicted Murdoch riding Cameron, with Rebekah Brooks' severed head also on the prime minister's back. Daily Telegraph cartoonist Matt had a horse testifying at the U.K. Leveson's inquiry, admitting, "Yes, sugar lumps did change hands."

It has long been known that the prime minister was on friendly terms with Brooks, his neighbor in the tony Cotswold town of Chipping Norton. Cameron's friendship with Charlie Brooks dates from their student days at elite Eton College.

Cameron has also faced uncomfortable questions about hiring Andy Coulson, like Brooks a former editor of the defunct Murdoch tabloid News of the World, as his communications director. Coulson resigned that post and has also been arrested and questioned in the police investigation into phone hacking.

The horse saga competed with the week's more significant developments:

— Murdoch launched The Sun on Sunday newspaper to replace the shuttered News of the World.

— Sue Akers, who is leading the police investigation into bribery of public officials by journalists, told the U.K. media ethics inquiry there appeared to be a culture of illegal payments at The Sun, a Murdoch tabloid.

— James Murdoch, Rupert's 39-year-old son, resigned as chairman of News International, which runs Murdoch's British papers.

Rebekah Brooks' spokesman David Wilson said Raisa had arrived at the family's home "extremely traumatized" after 13 years on the streets with the police.

"Rebekah only rode the horse once herself because it was so traumatized when it was received it was not fit for a novice rider," Wilson said. He said Charlie Brooks, a more experienced equestrian, rode the horse more frequently.

By Salon Staff

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