Saturday 17 March 2018

Defiant Cameron stands by his decision to hire Coulson

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media at a hastily convened press conference yesterday
British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media at a hastily convened press conference yesterday

Robert Winnett in London

DAVID Cameron yesterday struggled to distance himself from the 'News of the World' hacking scandal after he faced questions over his decision to hire Andy Coulson as his director of communications.

In a press conference, minutes before the paper's former editor was arrested by police, the British prime minister repeatedly stressed that the appointment was "his responsibility" but defiantly declined to apologise or acknowledge a mistake had been made.

Instead Mr Cameron launched a broadside against senior executives at Rupert Murdoch's company, while admitting that the relationship between politicians and the media had become too close.

He said that the current system of press regulation needed to be overhauled and announced two inquiries -- one into phone hacking and one into the conduct of the media.

Mr Cameron's intervention came 24 hours after the announcement that the paper would be closed down and on the day detectives arrested Mr Coulson and another former reporter at the 'News of the World' over allegations of phone hacking and illegal payments to police.

Mr Coulson was the editor when most of the alleged hacking took place but was given a "second chance" on being appointed to work for Mr Cameron.

In other developments:

•Mr Cameron said that James Murdoch, the chairman of News International and the son of Rupert Murdoch, had "questions to answer" after he admitted wrongdoing in his handling of the scandal. He also indicated that Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, should have resigned.

•Media regulators suggested that they may intervene to stop BSkyB being run by News Corporation, the Murdoch family's main company, on the grounds that the directors are not "fit and proper".

•Ms Brooks told staff at the paper it had to be shut down because worse revelations about its activities were imminent.

•Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, faced growing questions over his employment of another former News International employee accused of wrongdoing.

Mr Cameron sought yesterday to seize control of the scandal. He signalled that the alleged criminality at the 'News of the World' would lead to major changes in the entire media industry.

He described the scandal as a "wake-up call" and added: "Politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems.

"Well, it's on my watch that the music has stopped and I'm saying, loud and clear -- things have got to change."

However, Mr Cameron's pledge to intervene in the crisis has been criticised by opposition politicians because of his decision to bring one of the people at the heart of the scandal into Downing Street.

Yesterday, he repeatedly refused to apologise for the decision, saying that he had received "assurances" from Mr Coulson over his knowledge of phone hacking at the newspaper.

Journalists at 'The Guardian' claimed to have warned Mr Cameron that Mr Coulson could be implicated in phone hacking via the prime minister's adviser Steve Hilton.

It is understood that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, highlighted concerns with Mr Cameron over the appointment after the election.

Asked if he had "screwed up" on the decision to employ Mr Coulson in the wake of his resignation from journalism over the phone-hacking scandal, Mr Cameron said: "I decided to give him a second chance but the second chance didn't work. The decision to hire him was mine and mine alone."

Mr Cameron said a company had been hired to run a "basic background check" on Mr Coulson before he was employed.

He said he had received no "actionable" information about the former editor and was unaware of "specific" warnings.

Mr Coulson resigned from his position in Downing Street in January after News International passed new evidence to the police on alleged phone hacking.


Mr Cameron said yesterday that he had spoken to and met Mr Coulson since he had left his position. "I think he did his job for me in a very effective way. He became a friend and he is a friend," he added.

Downing Street sources said that Mr Cameron was giving Mr Coulson the "benefit of the doubt" until any evidence emerged proving that the assurances he gave were misleading.

However, Mr Miliband demanded that Mr Cameron apologise for the decision. The Labour leader said that Mr Cameron "clearly doesn't get it".

"He failed to apologise for the catastrophic mistake of bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of government," Mr Miliband added.

Tim Farron, the president of the Liberal Democrats, said the appointment of Mr Coulson "looks extremely bad for the prime minister".

Mr Cameron did attempt to distance himself from Ms Brooks, the News International chief executive, who is also a good friend. He said that the Murdoch family should have accepted her reported resignation offer earlier this week.

Irish Independent

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