Leading article: Coulson taints Cameron

Share
Related Topics

There are some conspiracy theories that happen to be true. And just because you are paranoid does not mean that they're not listening to your voicemail. The Andy Coulson furore may look like one of those beltway politics stories, but it is not. The personal integrity of the Prime Minister's staff is important; and the story has implications for civil liberties, including the right to privacy, which is not threatened only by government.

Mr Coulson, the Prime Minister's director of communications, insists that he knew nothing about the practice of illegally "hacking" into the mobile telephones of public figures when he was editor of the News of the World. He resigned from that post in 2007, accepting responsibility for the offence committed by Clive Goodman, one of his journalists, which Mr Coulson presented as an isolated incident about which he could not have been expected to know. Mr Goodman was jailed for four months, having pleaded guilty to intercepting royal phone messages. Six months later, Mr Coulson was hired by David Cameron, who said: "I believe in giving people a second chance."

Since then, the evidence has accumulated that the practice of hacking was extensive and routine at the News of the World. As we report today, Lord Mandelson was one of dozens of politicians who have been told by the police that their names were found among the records of Glenn Mulcaire, one of the subcontractors used by the News of the World, who was jailed with Mr Goodman. Last week, The New York Times published the results of a major investigation into the affair. It added to the weight of evidence suggesting that Mr Coulson's denial to a parliamentary committee that he knew of the practice lacked credibility.

"Even the office cat knew," one anonymous News of the World journalist told the American newspaper. Previously, Andrew Neil, the former editor of The Sunday Times, another newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, said that Mr Coulson was either "incompetent or complicit". As Charlotte Harris discusses below, Sean Hoare, a former News of the World reporter, told The New York Times on the record that Coulson asked him to hack phones. Last week, he repeated it to the BBC: "He was well aware the practice existed. To deny it is simply a lie."

Mr Cameron now has three choices. He can stand by Mr Coulson, and wait for the cases brought by people who believe their phones to have been hacked to work their way through the courts. Mr Coulson's former employer, News International, has already settled at least two cases, which has avoided the need for full disclosure. He could move Mr Coulson to some other role. Or he could get tough and say that he does not believe in third, fourth and fifth chances.

This is important for Westminster village reasons, in that Mr Coulson is beginning to lose the credibility with journalists that he needs to deal with stories such as the curious case of William Hague's adviser. We understand that Mr Coulson advised the Foreign Secretary to publish last week the full statement that stoked the coverage, rather than a more limited and decorous denial. But it is important for wider reasons of standards in public life. Mr Cameron needs to ensure that the public can have confidence in the probity of public servants, and particularly of political appointees on a publicly funded salary almost as high as his own. If Mr Coulson has lied to Parliament, he should go. Furthermore, the Prime Minister needs to dispel the unworthy suspicion that he is colluding with the Murdoch press in trying to play down the story for the sake of his relations with a powerful media mogul.

Yet there is also an important dimension to this story that goes far beyond the immediate fate of Mr Coulson. That is the nature of journalism in this country, and the apparent feebleness with which the basic protections of privacy are enforced. That requires clarity: that subterfuge is occasionally and exceptionally justified in the public interest, but must be described, explained and defended after the event. To be sure, newsrooms will have been scared off illegal hacking by the Goodman-Mulcaire case, but we cannot be confident that it will not creep back.

So there is a responsibility for the media to tighten up the rules so that people – and not only celebrities – can be confident that their privacy is protected. But Mr Cameron has a more pressing responsibility to dispel the serious doubts that surround one of his inner team.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices