Phone hacking: News International hand police Andy Coulson emails
David Cameron’s former press adviser has been dramatically placed back at the centre of the scandal surrounding the News of the World.
News International, which publishes the tabloid, released a statement saying it had released new evidence to police which it is alleged shows that Andy Coulson, the paper’s then editor, condoned payments from his staff to members of the police.
The company said that emails had been passed to investigating officers to help them with their inquiries.
A statement from News International said: “As a result of enquiries it is correct to state that new information has recently been provided to the police. As News International and News Group Newspapers has reiterated many times, full and continuing cooperation has been provided to the police since the current investigation started in January 2011.”
The shock move by bosses at Wapping to effectively throw Mr Coulson back into the spotlight illustrates the lengths they will now go to to protect Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive.
Mrs Brooks was editor when the News of the World is alleged to have hacked the phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler. That revelation on Monday has sparked widespread disgust and fury at Westminster and triggered calls for her immediate resignation.
Mr Coulson was her deputy at the time and later went on to edit the paper. The two journalists were incredibly close friends as well as colleagues.
News International’s move to point the finger at Mr Coulson shows that they are determined that Mrs Brooks will not have to be sacrificed, despite her previously close relationship with Mr Coulson.
In 2003 the two sat next to each other and gave evidence to a Commons Committee. Mrs Brooks, then Rebekah Wade, admitted paying police officers. However, Mr Coulson swiftly attempted to correct her by saying they adhered to the editors’ code and the law which forbids payment to the police for information.
Mr Coulson stood down as editor in 2007 after two reporters were sent to jail for phone hacking. He said he knew nothing of the offence but took responsibility as he was editor.
Months later he was hired by Mr Cameron and was charged with revitalising the then Opposition leader’s faltering stewardship of the Conservative party. When Mr Cameron became Prime Minister last May Mr Coulson went into Number as head of strategy and press.
However, his tenure in Downing Street was blighted by renewed interest at Westminster in phone hacking allegations against journalists at the News of the World.
Mr Cameron repeatedly backed his adviser in the face of fierce attacks from the media and MPs. The Prime Minister said Mr Coulson had paid the price of the hacking wrongdoing and he believed everyone deserved a second chance.
However, in January Mr Coulson bowed to the inevitable and resigned, accompanied by heartfelt tributes from the Prime Minister. The former journalist admitted that he could no longer do his job properly with the constant stream of accusations about his past time as editor of the News of the World.
But today’s disclosures thrust him squarely back into the limelight. Labour MPs in a three hour Commons debate on phone hacking – and Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, at Prime Minister's Questions are likely to again ask Mr Cameron why he backed Mr Coulson for so long. Mr Cameron’s judgement will again be questioned.