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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
John Rentoul met Ed Miliband aged 23, remarking he was “bright, and put up a good fight for the utilities tax, but I was unconvinced.”  

General Election 2015: Win or lose, Ed Miliband is not ready to govern

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk