21 Jan 2011

Andy Coulson quits Downing Street

The Prime Minister’s media chief Andy Coulson has resigned after News of the World hacking allegations. Former deputy PM John Prescott tells Channel 4 News David Cameron should have acted sooner.

Andy Coulson, David Cameron's director of communications, walks out of Downing Street. (Getty)

David Cameron has said he is “very sorry” that Andy Coulson had felt “compelled” to resign.

Last week he admitted that Mr Coulson was “extremely embarrassed” about accusations that he knew voicemails on mobile phones belonging to celebrities and other prominent figures were being hacked into.

Mr Coulson issued a statement earlier confirming his resignation in which he reiterated his innocence at the allegations made against him.

He said: “Unfortunately, continued coverage of events connected to my old job at the News of the World has made it difficult for me to give the 110 per cent needed in this role. I stand by what I’ve said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it’s time to move on.”

The Prime Minister said he wished Mr Coulson well, saying he had done a good job and was “being punished for the same offence twice.”

Judgement questions

The Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said: “We’ve been saying for some months that the cloud of allegations surrounding Andy Coulson’s tenure as editor of the News of the World raised real questions about his ability to be at the heart of the Downing Street machine.

“He’s now done the right thing, but he should have done it earlier. And I think it raises real questions about David Cameron’s judgement that he hung on to Andy Coulson for as long as he did.”

His words were echoed by former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who claims his phone was among those hacked.

Speaking to Channel 4 News he questioned why Mr Cameron appointed Andy Coulson in the first place.

He said: “Mr Cameron maintains – that even against this background of controversy – that he still feel she should stay in the job.

“That’s a reflection on his judgement in my view.”

That’s a reflection on [David Cameron’s] judgement in my view. Phone-tapping is a very serious allegation. John Prescott

But Mr Cameron dismissed calls over his judgement.

“I choose to judge him by the work he has done for me, for the Government, and for the country,” he said.

“He’s run the Downing Street press office in a professional and competent and good way. And if you compare that with the days of the dodgy dossier, and Alastair Campbell, and Damian McBride, and all that nonsense we had from the previous Government, he’s done an excellent, excellent job.”

Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, the MP who instigated the Parliamentary investigation into the phone hacking scandal and who believes his mobile phone messages were hacked by Glenn Mulclaire, told Channel 4 News he welcomed the news of Mr Coulson’s resignation.

He said: “The big issue here is David Cameron’s judgement. It is one thing to employ Coulson in opposition – it is quite another to continue to employ in power when he’s on the taxpayers payroll.”

He added that the resignation of Mr Coulson would “compound what has already damaged his reputation.”

Channel 4 News Who Knows Who on Andy Coulson

Statement from Andy Coulson, former Downing Street Director of Communications
I can today confirm that I've resigned as Downing Street Director of Communications. It's been a privilege and an honour to work for David Cameron for three-and-a-half years.

I'm extremely proud of the part I've played in helping him reach No 10 and during the Coalition's first nine months. Nothing is more important than the Government's task of getting this country back on its feet.

Unfortunately, continued coverage of events connected to my old job at the News of the World has made it difficult for me to give the 110 per cent needed in this role.

I stand by what I've said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it's time to move on. I'll leave within the next few weeks and will do so wishing the Prime Minister, his family, and his brilliant and dedicated team the very best for what I'm sure will be a long and successful future in Government.

Channel 4 News Political Correspondent Cathy Newman said that Mr Coulson had told the Prime Minister of his decision on Wednesday evening.

Having joined the paper in 2000, he was made editor in 2003, and then Mr Coulson stepped down as editor of News of the World in January 2007 over the phone-hacking scandal when royal editor Clive Goodman was jailed.

Mr Coulson’s resignation comes just days after Glenn Mulcaire – the private investigator jailed for his part in hacking the mobile phones of members of the royal family – claimed that Ian Edmondson, assistant news editor at the newspaper, had instructed him to hack into the mobile phone of the football agent Sky Andrew. Andrew is suing the paper for breach of privacy.

Mr Bryant is currently seeking a judicial review to force public disclosure of the names of the 3,000 or so people whose telephone messages were allegedly intercepted by the News of the World.

“I now hope that the Metropolitan police will get on with a proper investigation. I suspect there is a great deal more murk in the murkiness which is already surrounding this story.”

Hiring Andy Coulson was a risk, but David clearly felt his abilities were worth it. Conservative MP John Whittingdale

However, other MPs said they were “sorry” Mr Coulson had resigned.

Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who chairs the Commons Culture committee, one of several which have investigated Mr Coulson, told Channel 4 News: “I am sorry that he is going because because he has done a good job for the Government. But on the other hand it has become apparent that the News of the World phone hacking is going to keep running in the headlines, making it difficult for him to do his job.”

In terms of Mr Cameron’s judgement, Mr Whittingdale said: “David Cameron appointed him in the full knowledge that he had resigned from the News of the World. But he believed, as we all did then, that there was only one journalist involved.

“Hiring Andy Coulson was a risk, but David clearly felt his abilities were worth it.”

Former Lib Dem MP for Montgomeryshire, Lembit Opik, who is considering legal action against News International because he believes his phone was hacked, said Mr Coulson’s resignation was “inevitable.”

“I don’t personalise this issue, but he had to go,” he told Channel 4 News.

“Coulson was bringing down the name of the Government. One thing is for sure: his resignation does not exonerate him from any of the allegations he is facing and he needs to answer a lot of questions.”

Mr Opik added that his lawyer had written to Mr Coulson “some time ago,” to ask whether his phone had been hacked, but “as yet, we have received nothing back.”

Statement from Prime Minister David Cameron
I am very sorry that Andy Coulson has decided to resign as my Director of Communications, although I understand that the continuing pressures on him and his family mean that he feels compelled to do so.

Andy has told me that the focus on him was impeding his ability to do his job and was starting to prove a distraction for the Government.

During his time working for me, Andy has carried out his role with complete professionalism. He has been a brilliant member of my team and has thrown himself at the job with skill and dedication. He can be extremely proud of the role he has played, including for the last eight months in Government.

I wish Andy all the very best for his future, which I am certain will be a successful one.

He said the Commons committee’s published conclusion, which was that it was clear that phone hacking at the News of the World was not the work of a man acting alone, had been borne out by events since.

However he added: “There was no evidence that Andy Coulson knew about the phone hacking and that remains the assurance he has given.”