22 Jan 2011

Calls for police inquiry as Andy Coulson resigns

Downing Street communications boss Andy Coulson resigns following allegations of phone-hacking in his former job. Channel 4 News looks at the implications for the PM, amid calls for a police inquiry.

Communications chief Andy Coulson was pictured leaving Downing Street after announcing his resignation on Friday amid claims of phone hacking at the News of the World while he was editor.

In a statement Mr Coulson admitted that after months of intense pressure the phone hacking allegations were interfering with his government job.

“When the spokesman needs a spokesman it’s time to move on,” he said, while reiterating his innocence at the allegations made against him.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who has consistently stood by Mr Coulson, yesterday said he was “very sorry” his communications chief felt compelled to resign after three and a half years service.

Today, the phone hacking scandal widened as media lawyer Mark Lewis said he was representing four people who believe they were targeted by other newspapers.

Mr Coulson has always denied he had any knowledge of his staff illegally accessing phone messages of public figures and celebrities while he was in charge of the News of the World newspaper.

He resigned as editor in 2007 after the paper’s royal editor Clive Goodman, and private detective Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed for phone hacking. The News of the News has repeatedly said phone hacking was the act of a single “rogue” reporter without editorial consent.

Last week Mr Cameron said he was right to give Mr Coulson a second chance, saying his service to the government had been invaluable.

PM's judgement questioned as Andy Coulson resigns

PM’s judgement questioned

But critics have questioned the prime minister’s judgement for recruiting and standing by Mr Coulson, with some saying the resignation was “long overdue”.

The timing of the announcement also sparked accusations that the government was trying to “bury bad news” by declaring the resignation on the day Tony Blair was giving evidence at the Iraq Inquiry, and amid claims surrounding Alan Johnson’s departure from the shadow cabinet.

Shadow Justice Minister Chris Bryant said he hoped the Metropolitan Police would now conduct a thorough investigation into the phone hacking.

The Labour MP for Rhondda said: “To say this is long overdue is an understatement. Andy Coulson should never have been appointed in the first place.

“I hope now finally that the police will be able to conduct the full, transparent, and thorough inquiry into phone hacking that we are still waiting for and that the murky truth will come to light.”

Mr Bryant, who instigated the Parliamentary investigation into the phone hacking scandal and who believes his 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.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Coulson should have resigned earlier because the allegations seriously affected his government work.

“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 said.

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.”

‘No evidence’

Former News of the World editor Phil Hall told Channel 4 News that despite months and months of claims the allegations were still speculative and that without any real evidence it was “not in the public interest”.

Today’s resignation was a good for Downing Street, “but also his previous employers at the News of the World”, he said.

“It has been widely speculated that [phone hacking] has been going on across newspapers all over the business and in the last five to ten years was a regular practise,” Mr Hall told Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

“If that was the case there has been only one [newspaper] that was focussed on and that’s because of Andy Coulson’s position, because he is advising the prime minister.”

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 Edmondson was suspended by the newspaper shortly before Christmas amid claims he was involved in attempts to hack mobiles phones used by actress Sienna Miller.

Police subsequently wrote to the newspaper asking for any new evidence staff had on the case.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has tasked a senior QC to “comprehensively” re-examine material amassed as part of the original inquiry and any new evidence.

PM's judgement questioned as Andy Coulson resigns

Murdoch BSkyB deal

Despite refusing to speak to any media outlets, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell blogged at length regarding Mr Coulson’s resignation and how it may coincide with the attempts of News Corp to take over BSkyB.

Mr Campbell speculated that if the government wanted Murdoch’s media empire to takeover BSkyB without further investigation, “they may feel that is easier with Andy Coulson out of the way”.

“The truth on the phone-hacking is being dragged kicking and screaming from a reluctant News Corp and a reluctant police,” he wrote.

“It is being dragged nonetheless and even if it should not be tied up with the takeover, it is.”

Andy Coulson is set to leave his role as Downing Street commutations chief within the next few weeks.

Ladbrokes have already placed odds on his successor, with the former deputy editor of the Independent, Ian Birrell, and deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, Ben Brogan, emerging as the front runners.

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.