Andy Coulson, former head of communications to David Cameron in Number 10, has been arrested for phone hacking and corruption. This came less than an hour after a press conference at which David Cameron came close to calling for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation.
11.56: We’re going to shut down the live blog now, but keep an eye on the FT website for regular updates on this story throughout the day. Here is a final roundup of today’s events:
- Andy Coulson, the former head of communications to David Cameron, has been arrested on charges of phone hacking and corruption.
- David Cameron has defended his decision to appoint Coulson, saying he wanted to give him a second chance.
- But Cameron came close to calling for the head of Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive, saying if he had been offered her resignation he would have taken it.
- There will be two public enquiries into phone hacking: one led by a judge looking at specific allegations of hacking; the other at wider media ethics.
- The second, broader enquiry will look at a replacement for the Press Complaints Commission, marking an effective end to the PCC.
11.36: Jeremy Hunt has put out a statement confirming the delay to the decision on whether News Corp can bid for the rest of BSkyB. He says:
The consultation on undertakings in lieu offered by News Corporation in relation to their proposed merger with BSkyB closes at midday today. The secretary of state has always been clear that he will take as long as is needed to reach a decision. The secretary of state will consider carefully all the responses submitted and take advice from Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading before reaching his decision. Given the volume of responses, we anticipate that this will take some time. He will consider all relevant factors including whether the announcement regarding the News of the World’s closure has any impact on the question of media plurality.
11.28: Labour, unsurprisingly, remains on the attack. Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, criticises Cameron for not apologising for bringing Coulson into the government.
11.22: Here is the full statement from the Met:
The MPS has this morning (8 July 2011) arrested a member of the public in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking.
At 10:30 officers from the MPS’ Operation Weeting together with officers from Op Elveden arrested a man on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of corruption allegations contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.
The man, aged 43 years, was arrested by appointment at a south London police station. He is currently in custody.
The Operation Weeting team is conducting the new investigation into phone hacking.
Operation Elveden is the investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police. This investigation is being supervised by the IPCC.
It would be inappropriate to discuss any further details regarding these cases at this time.
11.12: Coulson has been arrested on two charges: conspiring to intercept communications (phone hacking) and corruption (which I assume, but cannot confirm, relates to payments to police).
11.10: Both BBC and Sky News are reporting that Coulson has now been arrested. We will bring you developments as they happen.
10.45: Investors seem to think that Cameron’s words (or perhaps just the fact that he had to call an emergency press conference) makes it less likely that the deal for BSkyB will get done. The company’s shares have been falling all morning and are now over 3 per cent down on the day.
It will be difficult for Jeremy Hunt to deny the bid on the terms of reference he has, but perhaps the fact that Cameron did not rule out a fit and proper person test being applied by Ofcom gives the government some wriggle-room to deny it on other grounds.
10.37: Sky News is reporting that Andy Coulson has not been arrested, contrary to their earlier report. But it has been widely reported that he will be arrested later today.
10.24: The press conference is over. Here are the main points:
- There will be two enquiries, one led by a judge looking into the phone hacking allegations, with witnesses questioned under oath and the other looking at press ethics in general.
- The Press Complaints Commission is essentially finished. Cameron said he wanted an independent method of press regulation, which would be looked at by the enquiry into press ethics.
- Cameron “sought and received assurances” from Andy Coulson that he knew nothing about phone hacking and was not told anything that changed his mind on wether he should have appointed him in the first place.
- Cameron came very close to calling for the head of Rebekah Brooks, saying if he had been in the situation where he was offered her resignation, he would have accepted it.
- The PM was desperate to move the questions away from Coulson, and onto what he said would be a “new relationship” between politicians and the press.
10.21: Cameron says he won’t instruct the police to start investigating certain individuals.
He also says the “key test for the prime minister, for the government” is whether they get a grip on the relationship between politicians and the media. He hopes that will be the key test, and not whether Andy Coulson is revealed to have lied over phone hacking.
10.19: Is this Cameron’s Iraq moment, and will Cameron himself need a second chance? The PM replies that it is not the same as taking money for tobacco advertising (referring to the Formula 1 advertising scandal that hit Blair in his early days as PM) or starting a war. But in the end, people will judge.
10.18: Is Andy Coulson still a friend? Yes Cameron has seen him, not frequently. The two are friends, he says. He says he hasn’t seen him in recent weeks. “You’d be pretty unpleasant if you just forgot about it.”
10.15: Newsnight’s Michael Crick asks if Cameron hauled in Coulson after fresh allegations appeared in the Guardian in 2009. Cameron said he had discussions before Christmas, not in the light of any specific allegations, but because “the second chance wasn’t working”.
But did he quiz Coulson further on what he knew? “That’s not the conversation that was happening.” He said during his time in the job, they discussed the issues, but he never saw any reason to change his mind on having appointed Coulson.
10.13: If Coulson is proved to have misled Cameron or lied to him, would he feel betrayed? Cameron: “If you’re given assurances and those turn out not to be true, you’re in a different situation.”
10.09: Cameron says he will look into whether his staff were warned that Coulson had links to a private investigator who had been accused of murder.
He also fails to give his backing to James Murdoch’s fitness as a media owner, saying the proper organisation (in this case, Ofcom) will have to decide on that. Does this give room for the government to use the “fit and proper person” test to deny the BSkyB bid at the last moment?
10.07: Is there a danger that a delay in enquiries will mean evidence is destroyed?
Cameron replies that you can establish an enquiry and set its terms of reference, but while a police investigation is ongoing, witnesses cannot be questioned. “I want to get this sorted out as soon as possible.” He says he is “champing at the bit” to get this sorted.
10.04: Roland Watson from The Times asks for more details on what assurances were sought before appointing Coulson. Cameron is desperate to get away from questions about his former spinner and onto the broader question of media ethics.
Cameron says there were a series of conversations between Coulson resigning the NotW and joining the Tories. He repeats that he received assurances about Coulson’s lack of knowledge of phone hacking. But again he repeats: “We don’t know who at News International knew what.” That’s hardly a full-blooded defence of Coulson.
10.00: Adam Boulton asks about Cameron and Osborne’s relationships with the Murdochs, and whether Murdoch is a “fit and proper person” to run BSkyB. A bold question from a Sky reporter.
Cameron says you have to have relationships with editors and owners to communicate your message as a politician. But says the problem is that politicians don’t then stop and ask whether that organisation is behaving properly.
On the “fit and proper person” test, Cameron says there are proper procedures for looking at mergers and takeovers. “It’s not right for a prime minister to say, ‘I would like that person to own a newspaper but not that person.’” He says the appropriate bodies should look at plurality, competition and fitness and propriety.
9.58: Cameron says he sought and received assurances over what Coulson knew about phone hacking.
9.55: Cameron appears angry over repeated questioning on his decision to appoint Coulson.
9.52: Cameron is now taking questions. ITV’s Chris Ship brings up Andy Coulson and asks Cameron to admit he made a mistake to appoint him.
Cameron replies it was his decision to give Coulson a second chance, but that didn’t work. “I don’t think it’s particularly meaningful to go over it again in a different way.” He says “People will have to judge whether it was right to give him a second chance or not.” He insists he didn’t know what people at News International did know or didn’t know. He has previously said that he “accepted” Coulson’s denial that he knew anything about phone hacking on his watch.
Cameron comes very close to calling for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation.
“It has been reported she offered her resignation over this, and in that situation, I would have accepted it.”
9.50: The PM says relationships between journalists and politicians has to change. He says: “It is vital that those in power tell the truth to the press.”
9.48: Cameron says party leaders were so desperate to get the support of newspapers they turned a blind eye to unethical behaviour.
9.48: Cameron: “We’ve all been in this together: the press, politicians, leaders of all parties, and yes, even me.”
9.47: On the bid: Cameron restates his previous position, that the government needs to follow legal procedure, and that’s what Jeremy Hunt is doing.
9.45: Cameron: “The press complaints commission has failed… It lacks public confidence.” He says the new enquiry will look at a new independent system of regulation. This is the end of the PCC.
9.45: Cameron announces a separate enquiry, led by independent public figures, to look into broader press ethics.
9.43: A judge-led enquiry will be set up to examine what happened and why the first police investigation “failed so dismally”. The enquiry will not start properly until the police investigation, but the govt will start consulting on it immediately.
9.42: He says the allegations about payments to police are being investigated by senior officers, with the IPCC overseeing the investigation.
9.41: The PM tries to move the debate on, making it about the wider media and politics. He says people want three things: to find out what exactly happened , to find out how it happened and to find out what can be done to stop it happening.
9.40: Cameron’s press conference is just starting. He says “The whole country has been shocked by the revelations of the phone hacking scandal.”
9.15: Good morning and welcome to an entirely unexpected and unplanned live edition of the Westminster blog. David Cameron will give a hastily arranged press conference at 9.30 where he is expected to deal with every element of the phone hacking scandal. That will presumably include a public inquiry, the role of Andy Coulson in Number 10 and what he told the prime minister and News Corp’s bid for the rest of BSkyB.
While we wait for the PM, here is a roundup of the latest events:
- The News of the World is to close, with its last edition appearing on Sunday.
- Andy Coulson has reported to police in central London this morning. There are reports he has been arrested, but this has not yet been confirmed by the Metropolitan Police.
- James Murdoch has backed Rebekah Brooks, the embattled News International boss who was in charge of the NotW when much of the hacking is alleged to have happened.
- Ed Miliband has called for the PM to apologise for appointing Coulson in the first place, and to join his calls for Rebekah Brooks’ job.