PRIME minister Cameron claimed yesterday that Andy Coulson, who had resigned as editor of the News of the World and who currently faces charges of perverting the course of justice, misled him when he was interviewed for the job of Tory press chief.
Cameron denied that he had made any error of judgement in hiring Coulson.
His defence at the Leveson Inquiry was that the whole of the state apparatus had been suckers, and that Coulson’s ‘assurances’ had also been accepted by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), police and MPs.
However, Cameron agreed that his decision to employ Coulson after he had resigned from the News of the World in January 2007, was ‘a controversial appointment’ which had ‘come back to haunt him and me’.
Cameron said he definitely remembers his chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, telling him he needed to ask about phone hacking at the News of the World (NoW).
But the prime minister said that at a ‘face to face meeting’ in May 2007 he had been given ‘assurances’ by Coulson that he had no knowledge of phone hacking.
‘I sought assurances, I got them and that was the basis on which I employed him,’ Cameron added.
‘Did you seek to check the verbal assurances Coulson gave you’, Robert Jay QC asked.
‘No, but, as I say, this issue had been investigated by others,’ Cameron replied.
Jay asked: ‘And why did you give him a second chance?’
‘Because he had done the honourable thing’ by resigning from the NoW, Cameron replied.
Jay pressed Cameron: ‘So you were basically reliant on his word and nothing else?’
‘Not fair’, Cameron replied, pointing out that the PCC, MPs, the CPS and the police had accepted Coulson’s assurances and claimed to have found no evidence of widespread phone hacking at the time.
Despite the hue and cry about the appointment, Cameron insisted: ‘If someone gave me evidence I wouldn’t have employed him and I would have fired him but I didn’t get that information.’
He remarked about Coulson: ‘Some people just didn’t approve of what the News of the World or tabloids do. Quite aggressive articles sometimes.’
He then complained: ‘ Andy Coulson came up with the most effective and destructive headline about me ever, three words which I never uttered: “Hug a Hoodie”.’
Earlier, Cameron denied claims by former Labour premier Brown that he did a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire to secure the support of The Sun and News of the World newspapers.
Cameron was questioned about wining and dining with Murdoch executives, such as former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of The Sun in 2009 when it switched its backing from Labour to the Tories.
Asked by Jay exactly when Brooks became a close friend, Cameron said the ‘relationship got stronger’ when she married his long-standing friend and neighbour Charlie Brooks.
A text message sent by Mrs Brooks to Cameron on the eve of his speech to the Tory Party conference in October 2009 was quoted.
She wrote: ‘I am so rooting for you tomorrow, not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes, he Cam.’
The prime minister’s witness statement revealed he had 1,404 meetings with ‘media figures’ – 26 a month on average – while in opposition between 2005 and 2010. Once in government, that fell to an average of about 13 a month.
In 2008 he took a trip to the Greek island of Santorini for a dinner with News International boss Rupert Murdoch because it was a chance to ‘build a relationship’ with him.