June 24 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “extremely sorry” for employing Andy Coulson after his former director of communications was convicted of phone hacking.
Coulson, who was one of Cameron’s closest aides until 2011, was found guilty at a court in London today. The charge dated from his time as editor of News Corp.’s News of the World newspaper, a job he quit in 2007 when the hacking scandal first broke.
A few months after he left the editor’s chair, Coulson accepted a job with Cameron. The prime minister has always said Coulson denied any involvement in criminal acts and that he believed him in spite of warnings from opponents and colleagues.
“I’m extremely sorry that I employed him,” the prime minister said in a television interview after the verdict. “It was the wrong decision. I asked him questions about if he knew about phone hacking. He said that he didn’t. I accepted those assurances. It was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision.”
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the apology left questions unanswered about why Cameron ignored warnings that Coulson had known more about hacking than he said.
“David Cameron must do much more than an apology; he owes the country an explanation,” Miliband said. “This was not some small or accidental mistake; he stuck with Andy Coulson over a long period of time, and it wasn’t like there wasn’t information out there to arouse his suspicions. He was warned by the deputy prime Minister, he saw front-page stories in newspapers, he was warned by newspaper editors, and yet still he refused to act.”
Coulson’s newspaper career ended after the conviction of one of his reporters for hacking the phones of royal aides in 2007. The reluctance of police, journalists or politicians to pursue the story meant he was able to begin a new career as Cameron’s adviser.
When the Guardian newspaper reported in 2009 that hacking at the News of the World had gone far wider than the first court case revealed, Cameron said he had Coulson’s assurances that he hadn’t known about it, and defended employing him as giving him a “second chance.”
According to Miliband, the decision to hire Coulson was less about second chances and more to do with a desire to win the support of Coulson’s former employer, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, whose company then controlled four U.K. newspapers. Murdoch closed the News of the World in 2011.
“This isn’t just a serious error of judgment, this taints David Cameron’s government,” Miliband said. “We now know that he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ahead of doing the right thing.”
Coulson brought to Cameron’s team an ability to produce punchy, tabloid-friendly messages. Even after Coulson quit in 2011 as hacking investigations gathered pace, the prime minister invited him to his country residence.
“When you work with someone for four years, as I did, and you work closely, you do build a friendship, and I became friends with him,” Cameron told reporters in 2011. “I think he did his job for me and the Conservative Party and then the country –- I think he did it in a very effective way. So, yes, he became a friend and is a friend.”
The hacking allegations overshadowed the early part of Cameron’s premiership and it became increasingly difficult for his party to dismiss it as what London Mayor Boris Johnson referred to as “a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party.”
Cameron was on a visit to Afghanistan in July 2011 when the Guardian reported that the News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. He was forced to answer questions about it at a press conference at the president’s palace in Kabul.
Later the same month, he had to cut short a trip to Africa after Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson resigned over his links to the News of the World. Cameron, who avoided contact with journalists on his plane after Stephenson’s resignation was announced, flew back from Lagos to make a statement to lawmakers in London.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at email@example.com Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson