News of the World

Jim Pickard

Andy Coulson at the Leveson Inquiry 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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James Murdoch as he arrives at the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the day when James Murdoch is giving evidence.

By Salamander Davoudi and Esther Bintliff in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times GMT.

NB: We refer to James Murdoch as James throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his father Rupert. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning James.

16.33 Wow that’s been a big day. We’re going to close the live blog for now but we’ll be back tomorrow morning just before 10am, for Rupert Murdoch’s appearance. In the meantime, FT.com will have all the news, analysis and comment you need. You can also investigate the documents mentioned during today’s proceedings here.

16.30 Members of the opposition Labour party are not being slow to voice their anger at the revelations today. Ivan Lewis, the former Labour culture spokesman – and Jeremy Hunt’s opposite number at a key time during the BSkyB bid - commented:

“Jeremy Hunt told me in parliament he was behaving in quasi judicial way. This cannot include off-record contact with any party.”

16.26 Labour MP Tom Watson – who has played a large role in investigating the phonehacking scandal, and is a vocal critic of the Murdochs and News Corp business practises – said in an interview with ITV news:

“I don’t think people knew the depths to which special advisors had been communicating with executives” at News International.

16.23 Over on the FT’s Business Blog, John Gapper focuses on the issue of whether newspaper proprietors get favourable treatment in business in return for publicly supporting politicians. He points out that the most telling moment on the subject today was when James described his anger at Simon Kelner, the editor of the Independent, who he clearly felt had betrayed the Murdoch family:

“I found Mr Kelner and I told him of my concerns, whether I used colourful language I will not dispute … I was particularly upset because Mr Kelner had been availing himself of the hospitality of my family for years.”

16.21 The prime minister’s spokesman said David Cameron has full confidence in Jeremy Hunt, reports Kiran Stacey from Westminster:

When asked if the PM had full confidence in Mr Hunt, a spokesman said he had. But he declined to say that Mr Cameron had full confidence in Mr Hunt’s handling of the BSkyB bid.

16.19 Jeremy Hunt has not tweeted today. However the first little bit of his update from yesterday – which coincided with the launch of the World Shakespeare festival – has a strange relevance today:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/Jeremy_Hunt/status/194426439305674752"] Read more

Kiran Stacey

Westminster is in tumult. In the last hour, allegations of phone hacking, corruption and other journalistic misdeeds at News International have developed significantly.

Here is the latest:

Kiran Stacey

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.

Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson (c) Getty Images

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.

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Kiran Stacey

Apparently sensational news from News International – this Sunday will see the last edition of the News of the World. Drastic action, so it seems, to distance the company once and for all from the hacking saga.

One note of caution: Michael White at the Guardian predicts this is a move to help the company streamline operations, and that it will launch a seven-day Sun, which would be the NotW in all but name.

I have no idea whether that is the case. But for now, here is NI’s full statement:

News International today announces that this Sunday, 10 July 2011, will be the last issue of the News of the World.

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Kiran Stacey

I wrote yesterday that David Cameron and the Tories in general are finding themselves on the wrong side of public opinion over phone hacking. Some think it is far worse than that.

Peter Oborne has written columns in both the Spectator and the Telegraph today ripping into Cameron and his government for their ties to News International. In a piece for The Telegraph headlined David Cameron is in the sewer because of his News International friends, Oborne says phone hacking will be as damaging for Cameron as Iraq was for Tony Blair. He says:

David Cameron, who has returned from Afghanistan as a profoundly damaged figure, now faces exactly such a crisis. The series of disgusting revelations concerning his friends and associates from Rupert Murdoch’s News International has permanently and irrevocably damaged his reputation.

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Kiran Stacey

Andy Coulson leave Number 10David 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

Coverage as it happened of Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions and the parliamentary debate on phone hacking at the News of the World. The debate followed shock allegations that the tabloid hacked into the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Read more

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

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.

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