Donald Trelford: Without a paper trail, Coulson will survive

Media Studies: Only if Coulson faces criminal charges, or is shown to have lied to MPs, will he lose his job

As a former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson is familiar with paparazzi, door-stepping and other "dark arts" used by the "red-top assassins" of the tabloid press in hunting their prey. Being on the receiving end must, nonetheless, be an uncomfortable experience. In this space last week Stephen Glover concluded that, on balance, he thought Coulson would survive the campaign to oust him as Downing Street's director of communications, even after the New York Times had tried to throw some logs on his funeral pyre.

Are the odds still in his favour, now that Scotland Yard has said it will examine any new evidence and MPs have referred the case to two committees of the House of Commons? Last week's parliamentary debate was a ludicrous spectacle, an excuse for Labour MPs to spill out anti-Murdoch bile and revenge themselves for the humiliations suffered in the expenses scandal. It was payback time. As Benedict Brogan put it in the Daily Telegraph: "Tories+Murdoch+bugging is one of Labour's favourite conspiracy flavours."

Most of the charges they dredged up were old hat. The period of widespread phone-hacking (not confined to the News of the World) was in the early years of the century and has been dealt with. Two men were jailed, Coulson resigned, the law was changed and the editors' code of conduct amended. The Press Complaints Commission is satisfied that newspapers are now behaving. In any event, as Peter Preston, the former Guardian editor, pointed out, phone-tapping can sometimes serve the public interest if it exposes serious wrongdoing.

Steve Whittamore's "blue book" of dirty tricks, dramatically revealed in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, has been in the hands of Scotland Yard for seven years. The private detective was hired by News International before Coulson became editor. If phone-hacking was so prevalent then, many journalists find it surprising that Coulson didn't know about it, either as editor or, before that, as deputy editor. But he says he didn't and, even if he had his suspicions, he is too shrewd to have left a paper trail that could prove him a liar.

I doubt if the MPs' committees will link him to any criminal activity. The New York Times certainly didn't, apart from the uncorroborated testimony of disgruntled former reporters, most of them anonymous, one from someone who had left the News of the World with drug and alcohol problems. And why did the American paper devote three reporters and 6,000 words to a story in Britain? It was to embarrass Murdoch, with whom they are engaged in a cut-throat survival battle against his revamped Wall Street Journal.

Scotland Yard will need harder evidence than this to bring charges under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The Guardian, the BBC and MPs can drip-feed allegations for ever, but only if Coulson faces criminal charges, or is shown to have lied to MPs, will he lose his job. Making phone-tapping charges stick is difficult. Just because a private detective or reporter has mobile numbers in his notebook, it doesn't prove that any calls were made. Detective agencies do legitimate work for newspapers, so substantial bills from them prove nothing.

Coulson has powerful allies, notably David Cameron and George Osborne, who are determined he should stay. His resignation would be seen as a Labour victory and would also raise questions about their judgement in hiring him. Tellingly, Cameron has said of the Coulson appointment: "I believe in people being given a second chance." In saying this he appears to accept that Coulson had acknowledged error on his own part when he resigned as editor.

Coulson is being compared to Alastair Campbell, but he was a much more successful journalist, winning a string of press awards, and is a much steadier individual. Significantly, the campaign against him is not supported by those big beasts of the Fleet Street jungle, the Daily Mail, the Sun and (of course) the News of the World. Nor, despite the views of its maverick columnist Simon Heffer, has the Telegraph papers joined in the witch-hunt. In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph this was described as "partisan, hypocritical and unjust".

It seems a shame that the News of the World should take such a kicking at a time when it has published a number of important scoops, several of them exposing corruption in sport. "Muck-raking" was the disparaging word used by MPs for this kind of journalism. It is a term the press should be proud of, for – as MPs should know only too well – there's a great deal of muck out there to be raked.





Who's a good villain to succeed Monty?



Editors rarely make successful newspaper managers. It is too early to say if Rebekah Brooks will be an exception. But one who did make the transition was David Montgomery, who left the editorial chairs at the News of the World and Today to become a wealthy tycoon and has now announced his "prepared retirement".

As a relentless cost-cutter, he made few friends at the Mirror or at this newspaper. Alan Watkins described him as "an Ulsterman to whom the adjective 'dour' attached itself like eggs to bacon". But he had a brilliant idea in putting together a collection of small European newspapers in a group called Mecom, then stripping costs to the bone and making profits. Now he has been ousted in the global recession by his investors, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good idea.

There was a time when the three most unpopular figures in the media were Montgomery, John Birt and Andrew Neil. Birt has retired to the Lords, Neil has softened his image through his television appearances, now Monty is going. So who is left for us to hate? There is always Piers Morgan, I suppose, an emotion now sharpened by professional jealousy at his powerful new job as successor to Larry King.



Donad Trelford was Editor of The Observer, 1975-93, and is Emeritus Professor of Journalism Studies at Sheffield University



Stephen Glover returns next week

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride