British PM dragged further into hack scandal

The allegations that Andy Coulson ordered his executives at the News of the World to stop openly discussing phone hacking and that he promised Clive Goodman his job back as long as he did not drop any other staff in it when he pleaded guilty to hacking is yet another problem for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Until yesterday, the only written evidence linking Mr Coulson directly to any criminality had been emails suggesting that he authorised payments to police officers for information.

Those documents – while hugely damaging – could still allow Mr Coulson to claim that he did not know about hacking and Mr Cameron to claim that Mr Coulson had not lied to him.

But now it is alleged by Mr Goodman that Mr Coulson not only knew about phone hacking but ordered its cover-up as well.

This raises fresh questions about the assurances Mr Coulson gave to Mr Cameron when he was hired and increases the chance that the Prime Minister may eventually have to admit that he was wholly deceived by a man he chose to take into the heart of the Downing Street machine.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Cameron refused to discuss the latest allegations against Mr Coulson.

He said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment. There is an ongoing police investigation and we have set up a judicial inquiry to establish the facts. The Prime Minister has made his thoughts on Andy Coulson clear.”

But the Labour leader Ed Miliband suggested such a position was unacceptable and unsustainable.

“This evidence raises serious questions about the extent of the cover-up at News International and the judgement of David Cameron. It says phone hacking was widely discussed at the News of the World.

“The problem for Mr Cameron is that he was already warned by the article in The New York Times last year about the same behaviour that today’s evidence claims went on at the News of the World when Andy Coulson was the editor.

“Yet he continued to employ Andy Coulson as his director of communications. The Prime Minister took no action and looked the other way amid these allegations that he had brought someone aware of criminal activity into 10 Downing Street. Every new bit of evidence shows how catastrophic his judgment was.”

For the time being Mr Cameron will maintain his position. But as more evidence comes to light and with criminal prosecutions in the autumn looking likely, the time for a humiliating mea culpa from the Prime Minister may be drawing closer.

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