Phone hacking trial: Coulson found guilty, Cameron apologises

andy-coulsonThe long-awaited trial of David Cameron’s former director of communications, Andy Coulson, concluded today, with the jury finding him guilty of a charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails as part of the phone-hacking scandal. All Coulson’s co-defendants, including former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, were all found not guilty of various conspiracy charges.

It’s just over 7 years since Cameron appointed Coulson as the Conservatives’ communications director – we noted in May 2007 his connection to what became known as the phone hacking scandal but which back then was widely ignored by the media as an accepted practice. Two years later, in July 2009, and thanks to a concerted campaign by the Guardian into the extent of illegal activity, the Lib Dems called for an independent inquiry into newspapers’ phone-tapping.

Then it all went a bit quiet again, with Andy Coulson transferring from Tory HQ to Number 10, and Lib Dem ministers leaving it to the party’s backbenchers to increase the pressure as the net closed in during autumn 2010. Eventually Coulson realised he was committing the cardinal ‘spin sin’ and becoming the story: he resigned in January 2011.

A few months later, the four year-old phone hacking story officially graduated into a full-blown scandal after the Milly Dowler revelations. Had Coulson still been in post at the time, David Cameron’s position would have been severely weakened, possibly fatally. As it was, Nick Clegg’s intervention left Cameron with no choice but to set up a wide-ranging, independent, judge-led inquiry in July 2011 – what became the Leveson Inquiry and then the Leveson Report.

And today, finally, David Cameron issued an unreserved apology for his decision in 2007 to hire Andy Coulson to be his right-hand man:

“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 that 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’m very clear about that.

“I asked him questions about if he knew about phone hacking and he said that 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 Number 10 Downing Street, but knowing what I now know and knowing that those assurances weren’t right it was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision.”

It’s embarrassing for the Prime Minister to have to make such an apology – but its swift and fulsome buck-stops-here admission will probably enable Cameron to draw a line under it all.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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9 Comments

  • Good run through of the story so far by Stephen Tall.
    Cameron’s apology includes — ““I asked him questions about if he knew about phone hacking and he said that he didn’t and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job……. …..”

    Cameron went on to appoint an Australian who was also working as a lobbyist for international Tobacco.
    I seem to remember that Cameron accepted some assurances from him too.
    How many years, I wonder, before Cameron apologises for that appointment?
    Perhaps he will ask Lord Chilcot to hold an enquiry and to write a report on it and then sit on the report for at least four years.
    BTW – what were the actual changes in behaviour brought aout by the Leveson enquiry?

  • Damian McBride (boo, hiss) makes the point that Coulson wasn’t subjected to the normal vetting procedure. The question for Cameron is ‘why not?’. I hope the Liberal Democrats join Labour in pursuing this in parliament at PMQ’s

  • As long as the system fails to prosecute Mr Murdoch, the only begetter of all these iniquities, these other cases can never be more than sideshows.

  • I agree with David-1

  • Is Cameron the only British Prime Minister to bring a criminal into the heart of Downing Street?

  • Richard Dean 25th Jun '14 - 2:45pm

    @GPPurnell. Hardly – he’s just the one that got caught! But in truth, your comment really isn’t fair, because Coulson had not been convicted at the time he was employed there.

  • On Radio 4’s The World Tonight they had a former Labour and former Lib Dem press SPADE discussing Coulson. No Tory would come on and say nice things about him but they didn’t need to as the Lib Dem obligingly did that. If Nick had SPADEs with that judgement it’s no wonder were in the hole that we are.

  • Richard Dean

    Strange excuse – he has already committed the crime and had not yet been caught…..also he was editor of a paper where someone had been imprisoned for the crime he was later convicted of.

    Nevermind the DV would have found him out…oh no unlike all previous occupants of his job he was not vetted but no-one really knows why not and there is much obsfucation.

    Cameron’s answerr was predictably evasive today – does he ever answer a question

    Also, there are a number of LD who seem very keen to support Cameron and the Government over letting Coulson inside No.10 after he had committed a crime.

    I refer you to Jeremy Browne

    But , as Orwell said,

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

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