Coulson invite 'normal', says Hague

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Indy Politics

Inviting Andy Coulson to Chequers after his resignation as Downing Street director of communications was a "normal, human thing" for David Cameron to do, Foreign Secretary William Hague said today.

Mr Hague said he was not embarrassed "in any way" by the Government's relationship with News International executives and defended the Prime Minister's decision to entertain Mr Coulson, the former News of the World editor, at his Buckinghamshire retreat in March.

Labour claimed last night that his invite to Chequers was evidence of Mr Cameron's "extraordinary lack of judgment".

But Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In inviting Andy Coulson back the Prime Minister has invited someone back to thank him for his work, he's worked for him for several years, that is a normal, human thing to do, I think it shows a positive side to his character."

Downing Street has also disclosed that Rebekah Brooks, who resigned yesterday as chief executive of News International, received hospitality at Chequers twice last year, once in June and again in August.

According to a list of prime ministerial engagements, News International chairman James Murdoch also attended Chequers in November.

Ms Brooks and Mr Murdoch met the Prime Minister socially in December. Separately, Ms Brooks met Mr Cameron again the same month.

There were further meetings between Mr Cameron and the editors of News International newspapers The Sun, The Times, News of the World and The Sunday Times.

Asked whether he was embarrassed by the amount of contact between the Government and News International executives, Mr Hague - a former News of the World columnist - said: "Personally I'm not embarrassed by it in any way, but there is something wrong here in this country and it must be put right.

"It's been acknowledged by the Prime Minister and I think that's the right attitude to take."

He added: "It's not surprising that in a democratic country there is some contact between leaders of the country, and indeed opposition leaders, and indeed I believe on that list of meetings there are also meetings with the executives of the Guardian and Trinity Mirror and whatever other news organisations."

Mr Cameron revealed last week that he had met Mr Coulson since his resignation, but "not recently and not frequently".

"When you work with someone for four years as I did, and you work closely, you do build a friendship and I became friends with him," the Prime Minister told a press conference last Friday.

"He became a friend and is a friend."

Amid calls from Labour leader Ed Miliband to apologise for his Downing Street appointment, Mr Cameron insisted he had had no reason to doubt Mr Coulson's assurances that he had no knowledge of hacking under his editorship.

At Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said: "If it turns out he lied, it won't just be that he shouldn't have been in Government, it will be that he should be prosecuted."

Of Mr Coulson's visit to Chequers, shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis said: "This is yet more evidence of an extraordinary lack of judgment by David Cameron.

"He hosted Andy Coulson at Chequers after, in the Prime Minister's own words, Mr Coulson's second chance hadn't worked out.

"David Cameron may think that this is a good day to bury bad news but he now has an increasing number of serious questions to answer."