David Cameron was under mounting pressure last night after Downing Steet disclosed a further meeting between Rebekah Brooks and the Prime Minister at his 40th birthday party, and Conservative MPs questioned his judgement in appointing Andy Coulson as a top aide.
Senior Tory MPs expressed concern that the controversy will dominate the news agenda throughout the summer, inflicting huge damage on the Government and Mr Cameron personally.
Amid a growing sense of crisis at Westminster, the Prime Minister cut short his visit to Africa and will now return tonight. He bowed to Labour demands to delay the start of the Commons summer break by one day and will make a statement to MPs on hacking tomorrow.
Mr Cameron will also try to calm the rapidly fraying nerves of his own party by addressing the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. Some Tories warned that Mr Coulson's resignation as Downing Street's director of communications in January had failed to insulate Mr Cameron from the scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch's empire and the Metropolitan Police, as his aides had hoped. "Coulson should never have been allowed across the threshold of No 10," one senior Tory said last night. "It was a terrible error of judgment and it has now come back to haunt the PM."
John Baron, Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay, said Mr Coulson's appointment was an "own goal". He described the scandal as "very serious indeed" and said "all political leaders have a certain responsibility". Downing Street's attempt to get on top of the scandal on Friday by publishing a full list of contacts between Mr Cameron and senior News International executives had to be revised yesterday after it emerged that they had left off a key social meeting between the Prime Minister and Ms Brooks.
The list revealed that Mr Cameron had met Ms Brooks four times since he became Prime Minister – but officials said yesterday the birthday party was not on the list because it had only just been recalled that she was present.
In the Commons, two veteran Labour MPs, Sir Gerald Kaufman and Dennis Skinner, called on Mr Cameron to quit over his decision to appoint Mr Coulson. At a press conference in South Africa, Mr Cameron deflected questions about his future by turning his fire on the police, saying the affair had raised "some very big questions about potential police corruption".
Mr Cameron hit back at Sir Paul Stephenson who, in his resignation statement as Metropolitan Police Commissioner on Sunday, said he had not told the Prime Minister that he had recruited Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor and close colleague of Mr Coulson, as a PR adviser. Sir Paul said he had done this so he would not compromise Mr Cameron by discussing a potential suspect who had a close relationship with Mr Coulson.
Mr Cameron, irritated that Sir Paul's remarks had dragged him deeper into the controversy, insisted the two men's cases were different.
"The situation in the Metropolitan Police Service is really quite different to the situation in the Government, not least because the issues that the Metropolitan Police are looking at, the issues around them, have had a direct bearing on public confidence into the police inquiry into the News of the World and indeed into the police themselves," he said.