Cameron aide in phone hacking row

Ex-Ministers call for Tory director of communications to be sacked after allegations

Lewis Smith
Thursday 09 July 2009 00:00

David Cameron was last night facing calls for his director of communications to be sacked amid a row over telephone hacking.

The demands followed a series of allegations about journalists at News International, which includes the News of the World, being involved in telephone hacking. It has been alleged that News Group Newspapers, part of News International, paid out more than £1m to settle legal claims which threatened to reveal journalists' involvement in hacking into phones.

Andy Coulson, now the Conservative leader's communications chief, was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World during the period hacking was claimed to have taken place.

John Prescott, the former Prime Minister, last night called for Mr Cameron to sack Mr Coulson, saying: "I hope Mr Cameron will clear him out," he said.

Private investigators are alleged to have carried out the phone hacking for journalists. Cabinet ministers including Mr Prescott and Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary, were said to be among those targeted, as were MPs from all three main political parties.

Mr Prescott, responding to claims that the police knew his phone had been monitored, was appaled that none of the officers had bothered to inform him.

"I find it staggering that there could be a list known to the police of people who had their phone tapped," he told Channel 4 News. "For such a criminal act not to be reported to me... reflects very badly on the police. I want to know their answer."

Geoff Hoon, the former transport secretary, joined the calls for Mr Coulson to go. "It is hard to see how Andy Coulson can continue as David Cameron's communications chief," he said. "Mr Cameron must make clear what action he intends to take."

Similarly, the former home secretary Charles Clarke said the allegations of "phone bugging" were "sensational" and that if true it would mean the behaviour of some senior executives was "disappointing, immoral and probably illegal".

He demanded the newspaper group publish a full list of everyone who had been targeted and said: "Mr Cameron now has to make his contribution to cleaning up public life by sacking his media adviser Andy Coulson who is closely implicated in this utterly unacceptable behaviour."

In 2007 Clive Goodman, the royal editor at the News of the World, was jailed for plotting to hack into telephone messages belonging to royal aides. During the hearing it was revealed that a number of public figures had telephone messages illegally intercepted by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator.

It has been alleged by The Guardian that Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, received a £700,000 settlement from News Group Newspapers.

But Mr Coulson, who resigned when Mr Goodman was jailed, said yesterday that he was unaware of a settlement with Mr Taylor. He added: "The Mulcaire case was investigated thoroughly by the police and by the Press Complaints Commission. I took full responsibility at the time for what happened on my watch but without my knowledge and resigned."

Two other settlements amounting to £300,000 are alleged to have been agreed with other claimants.After the trial News International executives maintained to a parliamentary select committee and the Press Complaints Commission that Mr Goodman was the only journalist involved and that he acted without their knowledge. Yesterday, however, there were allegations that a number of journalists may have been involved with hacking.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Culture Select Committee, said it would consider the alleged revelations today. "I am concerned. We were given an absolute assurance by News International, by the chairman of the company, that no other journalist at the News of the World had any knowledge, and that an inquiry had been made, and it was solely Clive Goodman who had been involved."

A spokeswoman for News International said last night: "News International feels it is inappropriate to comment at this time."

Mr Whittingdale added that the allegations "raised very serious questions" and he hoped to reopen a Parliamentary inquiry.

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