Cameron’s Coulson survives grilling

By politics.co.uk staff

David Cameron’s director of communications Andy Coulson has survived questioning by MPs over his involvement in allegations of phone-tapping.

Mr Coulson was the deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World at the time the Guardian newspaper claimed there had been widespread phone-tapping of celebrities and journalists at the red-top.

“I have to accept that mistakes were made,” he told MPs.

“I have to accept that the system could have been better. I think its self evident that the system could have been better.”

He continued: “I never condoned the use of phone hacking, nor do I have any recollection of phone hacking taking place.

“Things went badly wrong during my time at News of the World. I think it’s right that when people make mistakes they resign.”

Soon after the session ended Tory party HQ confirmed Mr Coulson’s job was safe but many observers were outraged by the comments.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “Andy Coulson’s defence is that he did not know what was going on despite the mounting evidence that his newsroom was widely using illegal phone hacking.

“Either he was complicit in crime, or he was one of the most incompetent Fleet Street editors of modern times. Neither should be a top recommendation to David Cameron.”

Committee chairman John Whittingdale re-opened his inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel in the wake of the Guardian’s allegations.

Last week it took evidence from Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist behind the story, who provided evidence of what he said was widespread law-breaking at the newspaper.

The session began with evidence from the current News of the World editor, Colin Myler, who protested over the position of Tom Watson on the committee. The Labour MP is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with the Sun, the news of the World’s sister paper.

“I happen to think this is News International trying to interefere with the work of the committee,” he responded.

“I think this is improper.”

Mr Myler faced a sustained barrage of hostile questioning from MPs, who refused to go beyond the evidence of the original Goodman case, which saw a News of the World journalist sent to prison after trying to hack into the phone messages of a member of the royal family.

“These are serious matters and I’m not going to speculate or guess,” he said.

“I can’t go on a general fishing expedition.”

Phillip Davies suggested the fact the list of people involved has now expanded outside of just royals indicated the phone tapping went beyond the royal editor.

Myler reacted furiously to that assertion, saying: “No evidence has been produced, either internally or externally to suggest what you’ve just said is the truth.

“I don’t know of any newspaper that has been so forensically investigated in the past four years. None.

“How much does the News of the World staff, accused of systemic illegality, have to continue?

“Where is the evidence?”

Later, Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of the newspaper, appeared to suggest he would no longer answer questions from the committee, accusing its members of acting like “judge, jury and executioner”.

MPs then laughed at his statement, forcing him to say: “I’m glad you think it’s funny.”

Mr Kuttner then appeared to relent and continued answering questions.