Labour has demanded to know whether senior civil servants raised concerns about Andy Coulson before he was appointed Downing Street’s Communications chief.
Ed Miliband said David Cameron must reveal whether either the then Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell or any other senior official had “raised concerns” about Coulson’s appointment as a special adviser in 2010.
Mr Cameron dodged the question in Parliament and simply accused Mr Miliband of going through “all the old questions that were answered by the Leveson Inquiry”.
But an analysis of Mr O’Donnell’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry reveals that he was never directly asked whether he had questioned Coulson’s appointment.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the current Cabinet Secretary who was then Downing Street’s Permanent Secretary and oversaw Coulson’s appointment, was not asked to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry at all.
A Downing Street spokesman later refused to say whether or not Coulson’s appointment had been queried either by Lord O’Donnell or Sir Jeremy.
Questions were also raised as to why Coulson was not subjected to a more rigorous form of “developed” vetting for the communications job to which previous incumbents had been submitted.
When he was appointed, Sir Jeremy is understood to have decided that Coulson should not receive this higher form of vetting – reportedly because he felt that too many special advisers had access to the highest level of security clearance. He only changed his mind six months later following a terrorist incident in the Midlands. The process was incomplete when Coulson resigned.
If Coulson had been given developed vetting earlier he would have been asked questions about extra-marital affairs – including the one which it later emerged he had had with Rebekah Brooks.
The process would also have examined his previous role at the News of the World and involved detailed questions about his knowledge of criminality.
Mr Miliband suggested this was an unacceptable oversight. “The very least that the Prime Minister should have done was insist that Andy Coulson should have the highest level of security vetting, as his six predecessors over the previous 14 years had had,” he said. But Mr Cameron said this issue had been looked into by Lord Justice Leveson.
“If the Leader of the Opposition’s contention is that developed vetting would have got to the bottom of Coulson’s conduct at the NOTW, he should be very clear about what Leveson found. He found that ‘the process of considering Mr Coulson for DV status would not have involved a detailed investigation of phone hacking at the NOTW’”.