Coulson cornered by Sheridan – but cleared over phone-hacking

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister's head of communications was yesterday forced to deny lying about his involvement in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal on the same day the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced there will be no further charges over the long-running allegations.

Keir Starmer QC, the head of the CPS, said witnesses had refused to co-operate with Scotland Yard officers who had been unable to uncover sufficient evidence to bring a case against Andy Coulson, the former Sunday newspaper editor.

Yesterday, Mr Coulson, David Cameron's most senior aide, appeared as a witness in a perjury trial in Scotland where he denied Rupert Murdoch's News International had acted corruptly by employing the senior police officer charged with investigating illegal phone-hacking at one of its papers after he resigned from Scotland Yard.

During nearly three hours of intensive cross-examination at Glasgow High Court, Mr Coulson described as "nonsense" allegations that there was anything improper in the decision to hire former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman as an occasional columnist on The Times after he retired.

Mr Coulson, who was giving evidence for a second day in the perjury trial of former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, told the court that his desk had not been searched during the 2006 police raid on the office of the News of the World by officers investigating phone-hacking, and that he had not been present throughout. He resigned as editor of the Sunday newspaper following the jailing in 2007 of its royal editor, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, for hacking into mobile phone messages from members of the royal household and celebrities.

In his statement yesterday, Mr Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said Sean Hoare, a former reporter on the News of the World, former reporter made claims in a New York Times article about the Prime Minister's communications chief. The CPS was asked to consider the case when a Scotland Yard inquiry was revived after the New York Times alleged that the practice was more widespread at the paper than previously admitted. But yesterday Mr Starmer said: "Sean Hoare, who made significant allegations in the New York Times and elsewhere, was interviewed by the police but refused to comment. A number of other witnesses... either refused to co-operate with the police... or denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.... there is no admissible evidence upon which the CPS could properly advise the police to bring criminal charges."

In a series of charged courtroom exchanges between the Downing Street spin-doctor and the socialist firebrand Mr Sheridan, who is representing himself, Mr Coulson denied lying about his claim he had no knowledge of phone-hacking at the paper during his four years as editor. Mr Sheridan, who along with his wife Gail denies perjury charges relating to his successful libel action against the News of the World which was then edited by Mr Coulson, challenged the No 10 communications adviser over Mr Hayman's role as an occasional columnist on the sister paper. He said: "Do you not agree it stinks of corruption that a senior Metropolitan Police officer leaves and gets a job at News International?" Mr Coulson replied: "No, I absolutely disagree with you, Mr Sheridan. It's nonsense."

Mr Coulson was also asked whether "personal information" held by the News of the World on Mr Hayman might have prevented him from fully investigating the phone-hacking claims to which Mr Coulson replied: "No". Mr Coulson said he had volunteered to talk to police two months ago after allegations made by Sean Hoare that his boss had been fully aware of phone-hacking.

The CPS said the investigation had not been closed and that a panel of police officers and prosecutors will investigate any further allegations.