David Cameron apologises for hiring Andy Coulson
Published 24/06/2014 | 15:00
BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron has given a "full and frank" apology for employing Andy Coulson at 10 Downing Street, after his former director of communications was found guilty of phone hacking.
Mr Cameron acknowledged that people would be "concerned" at Coulson having worked for him both as leader of the opposition and Prime Minister, but stressed that there had been no complaints about his work at No10.
The Prime Minister said he had asked the former News of the World editor whether he knew about phone hacking before he was hired, and received assurances which have now turned out to be false.
Speaking in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: "I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson.
"I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turned out not to be the case.
"I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today.
"I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I am very clear about that."
In a televised interview lasting around three minutes, Mr Cameron said that he apologised "unreservedly" and was "profoundly sorry" for having employed Coulson.
Pressed over the exact questions which he had put to Coulson when interviewing him for his job, Mr Cameron said: "I asked him questions about whether he knew about phone hacking and he said he didn't and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job.
"I would say that no-one has made any complaints about the work that he did for me either as leader of the opposition or indeed here in Downing Street.
"But knowing what I now know, and know that the assurances were not right, it was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision."
Mr Cameron said that he had questioned Coulson with his chief of staff Ed Llewellyn: "I asked him and my chief of staff asked him whether he knew about phone hacking. We accepted his assurances. That's the basis on which I employed him."
And he added: "Employing someone when they gave false assurances was the wrong decision. I am profoundly sorry about that.
"I always said that if this turned out to be the case, I wouldn't be found wanting in giving a full apology. I am sorry about that. It was a bad decision. I shouldn't have taken it."
Mr Cameron added: "Obviously people will be concerned that he worked for me as leader of the opposition, he worked here in Number 10 Downing Street.
"No-one, to my knowledge, has made any complaints about the work that he did in either of those two jobs. This all relates back to what he knew when he was editor of the News of the World.
"I was given assurances that he didn't know about phone hacking. That turns out not to be the case.
"I was always clear, if that happened I would apologise, and I do so unreservedly today."
Mr Cameron walked off camera and left the room without answering the final question from his interviewer, ITV political editor Tom Bradby, who asked: "On a human level do you feel sorry for him?"
Chancellor George Osborne said: "I too am very sorry for the decision we made to employ Andy Coulson.
"He gave us assurances that turned out not to be the case. We gave him a second chance but, knowing what we now know, it's clear that we made the wrong decision.
"It's important for the victims of phone hacking that this has now been properly dealt with by the courts; and it matters for us all that we have a free and vibrant press which operates within the law."
Labour leader Ed Miliband said that Mr Cameron had "brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street" and his Government was "tainted" as a result."
In a televised statement, Mr Miliband said: "I think David Cameron has very, very serious questions to answer, because we now know that he brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street.
"David Cameron was warned about Andy Coulson, the evidence mounted up against Andy Coulson. David Cameron must have had his suspicions about Andy Coulson, and yet he refused to act.
"Now, I believe this isn't just a serious error of judgment. This taints David Cameron's Government, because we now know that he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ahead of doing the right thing when it came to Andy Coulson.
"This was not some small or accidental mistake. He stuck with Andy Coulson over a long period of time, and it wasn't like there wasn't information out there to arouse his suspicions. He was warned by the Deputy Prime Minister. He saw front page stories in newspapers. He was warned by newspaper editors. And yet still he refused to act and even today defended some of the conduct of Andy Coulson when he worked for him.
"I think David Cameron must do much more than an apology. He owes the country an explanation for why he did not act on these allegations against Andy Coulson, why as the evidence piled up he didn't do anything about it, and he's got to explain."
Mr Miliband added: "It's one thing to say that when Andy Coulson was originally appointed, David Cameron talked to him.
"But there was a lot more information that came out month after month, year after year, including when Andy Coulson was appointed to Downing Street.
"And then there's a whole set of questions about the kind of security clearance that Andy Coulson received, because he doesn't seem to have received the most comprehensive security vetting and clearance. We need to know why that didn't happen
"We need to know the fundamental basic question, which is, as months were going by and more and more evidence was mounting, why didn't David Cameron act, why didn't he seek an investigation into these allegations against Andy Coulson, why did he stick by him?
"We know why he stuck by him. He was more interested in his relationship with the press than he was in doing the right thing by the public interest. That's why his Government is a tainted Government."