Andy Coulson faces new hacking questions

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The Independent Online

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson today faced fresh questions over his role in the phone-hacking scandal after MPs released documents claiming the practice was "widely discussed" at the newspaper.

Papers published by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee suggest the issue frequently came up at the paper's editorial meetings until Mr Coulson banned any further mention of the subject.

Despite resigning as the paper's editor in 2007, Mr Coulson has consistently maintained he had been unaware of the practice, claiming it was confined to one "rogue" reporter - former royal editor Clive Goodman.

Labour MP Tom Watson described the latest claims as "devastating" and said they suggested previous evidence given by Mr Coulson to the committee was "at best misleading and probably deceptive".

The disclosure is also potentially highly embarrassing for David Cameron who made Mr Coulson his director of communications after he quit the News of the World.

The Prime Minister has said he would make a "profound apology" if it turned out Mr Coulson - who has already been questioned by police - had lied to him about his involvement when he gave him the job.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the latest evidence showed what a "catastrophic" judgment it had been for Mr Cameron to take Mr Coulson with him into Downing Street. Mr Coulson subsequently left No 10 last January.

A Downing Street spokesman said it would be "inappropriate" to comment, adding: "The Prime Minister has made his thoughts on Andy Coulson clear."

In further developments, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman John Whittingdale indicated they would probably recall James Murdoch after his evidence to the committee was challenged by two former executives at the paper.

Former legal manager Tom Crone and Mr Coulson's successor as editor, Colin Myler, will now appear before the committee on September 6 with other senior figures from the organisation.

The latest documents released by the committee include a letter written by Mr Goodman in March 2007 appealing against his dismissal after he was convicted and jailed for hacking the phones of royal aides along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

In it he stated: "The decision is perverse in that the actions leading to this criminal charge were carried out with the full knowledge and support of (BLANKED OUT). Payment for Glen (sic) Mulcaire's services was arranged by (BLANKED OUT).

"The decision is inconsistent, because (BLANKED OUT) and other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures."

He went on: "This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor."

Mr Goodman also stated in the letter that he had been assured he would be given his job back if he did not implicate anyone else at the paper when he appeared in court.

"Tom Crone and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea," he wrote.

Mr Watson, who has campaigned strongly on the issue, said that the letter raised "very, very serious" questions about Mr Coulson's claims that he was unaware of phone-hacking.

"Clearly, if Clive Goodman's account is accurate, it shows the evidence he gave us was at best misleading and probably deceptive," he said.

In a separate submission to the committee, James Murdoch, the deputy chief executive of News Corp, disclosed payments worth £243,502 had been made to Mr Goodman in relation to his claim of unfair dismissal, including £13,000 in legal fees.

He said he had been informed that approximately £246,000 had been paid to Mr Mulcaire's lawyers.

Mr Goodman's letter was included in a bundle of documents submitted by solicitors Harbottle and Lewis which carried out a review of internal News of the World emails in relation to Mr Goodman's wrongful dismissal claim.

In a letter to the committee, the firm strongly criticised James Murdoch and his father, Rupert, for relying on their report to support their contention that phone-hacking at the paper had been the work of one "rogue" reporter.

"There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes," it said.

A spokeswoman for News International - News Corp's UK newspaper publishing arm - said that the company was now co-operating fully with the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone-hacking.

"We recognise the seriousness of materials disclosed to the police and Parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities," she said.