Cameron criticised for poor judgment over Coulson
British prime minister apologises after former adviser's conviction for phone hacking
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson leaves the Old Bailey in London yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Will Oliver
Rebekah and Charlie Brooks leave the Old Bailey in London yesterday after being cleared of all charges. Photograph: John Phillips/Getty Images
Some questions cannot be answered. Asked if he felt “human sympathy” for Andy Coulson just hours after Coulson was convicted in the Old Bailey, David Cameron walked away from a TV camera crew.
However, Mr Cameron will not be able to quickly leave the legacy of Coulson, the former News of the World editor now facing jail for conspiracy to intercept voicemails.
His successor at the helm of the paper, Rebekah Brooks, was found not-guilty of conspiracy to hack voicemails, two counts of conspiracy to pay public officials and two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Her husband Charlie Brooks, secretary Cheryl Carter and News International’s former head of security Mark Hanna were cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice while ex-News of the World executive Stuart Kuttner was cleared of conspiracy to hack voicemails.
Coulson stood down eight years ago as editor of the paper after reporter Clive Goodman’s conviction for intercepting phone messages, saying that he deeply regretted the offences had “happened on my watch”.
“I also feel strongly that when the News of the World calls those in public life to account on behalf of its readers, it must have its own house in order,” said Coulson, who was regarded as tough and ruthlessly efficient.
Months later, however, he was given the opportunity for a rebirth, becoming the Conservatives’ director of communications – a decision principally made by Mr Cameron and George Osborne.
Coulson, who was paid nearly £500,000 a year, proved his worth, playing a key role in building ties between Mr Cameron and Fleet Street heavyweights as the Conservatives prepared for the 2010 election.
In July 2009, however, The Guardian revealed that the mobile telephones of 3,000 people had been hacked by News International journalists mostly, but not exclusively, by the now-defunct News of the World.
One of the alleged victims, Labour’s John Prescott, wrote to Mr Cameron, warning him that Coulson was not fit to hold office if the allegations were true. Mr Prescott demanded a prompt reply but never got one.
Mr Cameron never investigated Coulson’s promises to him, while top-level security vetting – a decision for civil servants, not Mr Cameron – was not started until just months before he left Number 10 and was not completed by the time he quit.
Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne issued a speedy apology yesterday: “I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson. I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turned out not to be the case.
“I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today.