This was the FT’s live blog on the Leveson Inquiry on May 10th, 2012. Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and head of communications at Number 10, was testifying. Written by Kiran Stacey (KS) and Jim Pickard (JP).
4.34pm KS: The Andy Coulson session has now wrapped up. Ben Fenton has written this story for the FT. He writes:
Andy Coulson, the former tabloid editor who became David Cameron’s spokesman, rejected on Thursday the idea that politicians in Downing Street had become too close to the press.
These are the other interesting details to emerge from today’s session:
- Coulson admitted he “may have” seen Top Secret documents and definitely did attend National Security Council meetings, even though he did not have top-level security clearance.
- Coulson had shares worth around £40,000 in News Corp while working for Number 10. This story was broken by the Independent on Sunday, whose editor was summoned to Leveson today to explain how they had got the story.
- David Cameron did not ask Coulson about his knowledge of the phone hacking activites of Glen Mulcaire and Clive Goodman even after the Guardian revealed the practice was more widespread than originally claimed.
This is Ben Fenton’s conclusion:
Andy Coulson was never going to be asked the toughest questions about his time at Number 10 because they would have conflicted with his status as a man on police bail.
But while he played a dead bat to everything, with a litany of “I don’t believes…I don’t recalls…” there were still some difficult moments in his verbal and written evidence.
We know he saw top secret material without supervision, which he shouldn’t have done, that he held News Corp shares but didn’t imagine there was any possible conflict of interest and that David Cameron did not ask him for further assurances that he knew nothing about the phone hacking offences at his paper even after The Guardian, in July
2009, produced evidence that it was widespread.
REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV
Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the second day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, gave evidence.
By Esther Bintliff, Salamander Davoudi and Tim Bradshaw in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.
NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.
16.45 What were the most interesting things that Rupert said today? Here’s a selection of three key moments. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
- “The News of the World, quite honestly, was an aberration, and it’s my fault”. Rupert said this in the context of defending his other newspapers and their integrity, thus characterising the NOTW as a sort of rogue newspaper – just as he once relied on the “rogue reporter” argument. However, it’s also noticeable that he appeared to take responsibility – “it’s my fault”. He would later say he was “sorry he didn’t close [the NOTW] years before”.
- “I think the senior executives were all informed, and I — were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there, and I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name, because for all I know they may be arrested yet, but there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to…” This is where Rupert effectively accuses “one or two” people at the News of the World of organising a cover-up of the extent of phonehacking at the newspaper.
- “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back’”. It was as if Rupert momentarily let the veil fall when he made this offhand comment, giving a sense into what his critics might say is ‘the real Rupert’. Robert Jay QC was quick to jump on the remark, saying: “You said it was a common thing in life… and that’s true, that’s human nature, but it’s interesting that you say that’s no part of the implied deal in your relations with politicians over 30 years, Mr Murdoch. Is that right?” Rupert saw the trap and took evasive action: “I don’t ask any politician to scratch my back… That’s a nice twist, but no, I’m not falling for it.”
David Cameron did not have an easy PMQs today. Ed Miliband took the most of the opportunity and made him squirm over phone hacking at the News of the World.
There is no reason Labour should necessarily be making the running on this: it is essentially a non-political matter that politicians could unite behind to give journalists a good kicking. And that’s what Cameron tried to do: backing calls for a public inquiry into the allegations and inviting the other party leaders for talks on how that inquiry should proceed.
The problem is that he is on the back foot about other elements of this story: the bid by News Corp for BSkyB and his relationship with both Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. Read more
Andy Coulson has set himself up as an independent freelance consultant offering communications advice and has just won approval for his first client, a global conference for young future world leaders.
Mr Coulson, former director of communications at 10 Downing Street (pictured back left) resigned in January after the furore caused by allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World, which he previously edited. He has always denied knowledge of hacking under his watch, although he resigned as editor in 2007 when one of his journalists and a private detective were jailed for intercepting voicemails.
His new role was confirmed by Kate Robertson, the co-founder of “One Young World“, who is also UK group chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide, part of the French marketing group Havas.
Ms Robertson told me she met the former spin-doctor after the Conservatives hired her company in 2007 ahead of the “election that never was”.
She said that Mr Coulson would only be working on a paid ad hoc basis for One Young World and not Read more
On the day the coalition was formed, Michael Gove entered Downing Street with his consigliere Dominic Cummings. Only one of them left with a job.
It was one of the clearest demonstrations of Andy Coulson’s power. On Coulson’s advice, David Cameron offered Gove the position of education secretary on the condition that he sacked Cummings. Gove did not take it well. Read more
So far the News of the World phone hacking affair has run largely along party lines. Labour MPs have lined up to call for various inquiries and investigations, while the Tories and Lib Dems have kept largely silent, with Number 10 issuing denials that Andy Coulson knew anything about the hacking that we do know took place.
Today that changed. A fired up Commons has voted unanimously to refer the matter to the committee on standards and privileges, the most powerful Commons committee, and one which has the power to subpoena witnesses. Read more
The Andy Coulson phone hacking affair is in danger of descending into a political slanging match, when it is actually much more important than that. It is about press practices, the rule of law, personal privacy – not just the Coulson’s future as David Cameron chief spinner.
These are all issues one might expect Liberal Democrats to get excited about. But the party bigwigs have been silent on the matter – a far cry from before the election, when Chris Huhne said:
Andy Coulson’s defence is that he did not know what was going on despite the mounting evidence that his newsroom was widely using illegal phone hacking. Either he was complicit in crime, or he was one of the most incompetent Fleet Street editors of modern times. Neither should be a top recommendation to David Cameron.
A dramatic day already in the Commons, and the AV debate has only just begun. Theresa May has just been forced to answer an urgent question from Labour’s Tom Watson on the allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.
During that session, Tom Watson made a prety extraordinary claim: that Tony Blair has written to the Met to ask if he was a victim of phone hacking.
In one way, this shouldn’t be surprising – Tony Blair was the highest-profile public figure at the time, and it is only natural that he should at least ask whether he was on as list found by investigators back in 2006 belonging to the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. After all, if John Prescott, his deputy, believes he was hacked, why shouldn’t Blair? Read more
There’s been lots of huffing and puffing about Andy Coulson’s pay since the government published the civil servant “rich list”.
But the truth is that most special advisers are working without a contract. Nothing has been officially sorted and no one has been paid a penny — yet. It’s almost Cameron’s Big Society in action. Read more