Thursday, July 09, 2009

Andy Coulson: Smoke and Mirrors

It is illegal to tap phones in the UK.

Even when matters of urgent state security are involved, the authorisation to tap phones can only come from the Home Secretary - and even that under strictly limited circumstances.

So today's allegations from the Guardian that News International has sanctioned widespread illegal phone taps against a large number of individuals, including cabinet ministers, are truly shocking. These appear to be simple fishing expeditions with no public interest defence possible.

This is straightforwardly criminal activity.

The Conservatives have found themselves in a certain amount of trouble on this: Andy Coulson, the Tory Director of Communications, was the editor of the News of the World before he was forced to resign over some specific allegations of phone taps against members of the Royal Household.

David Cameron has said that he is "very relaxed" about the issue. The point being that the out of court settlements that News International were forced to make took place after Andy Coulson had already left the editorship.

The problem is not whether or not Mr. Coulson knew about the settlement- the point is whether or not he knew about the phone hacking. The fact is that his denial of knowledge of the settlement is a classic example of misdirecting the media. There is considerable evidence that Mr. Coulson did in fact know that phone hacking was going on- and his statement is a "non-denial, denial".

Under those circumstances David Cameron needs to be a whole lot less relaxed. The fact is that Andy Coulson may yet face criminal charges. Certainly this scandal is considerably more serious than the ridiculous expenses farrago.


Newmania said...

Yes the odd thing is that this is old old news .
I don`t suppose anyone cares if Coulson has to go although it does seems a bit vindictive .He has done nothing wrong for the Conservative Party and in fact this has nothing to do with the Conservative Party (Unlike Mc Bride et al)

It approaches the 'so what' catharsis for me

Eben Marks said...

If it is considerably more serious than the expenses scandal, then it is almost immeasurably more serious than the Redrag/McBride scandal (which is not to say that wasn't repugnant). Iain Dale seems to think otherwise:

"The second weakness in the Guardian's case against Coulson - and indeed for those Labour MPs who are apparently likening him to Damian McBride - is that none of this has happened during his employment by the Conservative Party."

No, Andy Coulson is not like Damian McBride, he is far worse. It doesn't matter that this happened before Coulson's employment by the party. That the Conservatives have someone on the payroll who potentially* oversaw this behaviour shows says little good about their sense of decency.

*Either he knew, in which case he's liable to face criminal charges, or he didn't know, in which case he's just a wildly incompetent manager who allowed a culture of illegality to fester at his newspaper.