Huhne on Coulson: "either complicit or incompetent"

by Stephen Tall on July 21, 2009

The BBC reports:

Conservative communications chief Andy Coulson has told MPs he did not “condone or use” phone hacking when he was editor of the News of the World. Mr Coulson quit as the editor after a reporter was jailed for hacking.

Although he said he had not known about it, he told the culture committee he regretted things going “badly wrong” and had taken responsibility by going.

Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne has not been won over by Mr Coulson’s performance today:

Andy Coulson’s defence is that he did not know what was going on despite the mounting evidence that his newsroom was widely using illegal phone hacking. Either he was complicit in crime, or he was one of the most incompetent Fleet Street editors of modern times. Neither should be a top recommendation to David Cameron.”

Andy Coulson hasn’t won me over, either. His defence appears to be that by resigning he has drawn a line under the newspapers’ phone-tapping scandal. This was a line echoed by Tory leader David Cameron, when he initially sprang to Mr Coulsion’s defence:

It’s wrong for newspapers to breach people’s privacy with no justification. That is why Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World two-and-a-half years ago.”

Yet what Mr Coulson is accused of is not a mere sacking offence: it is a criminal offence. This isn’t something that can or should be erased by a voluntary resignation with a handsome pay-off from Rupert Murdoch. That the Tory leader apparently cannot recognise that sharp truth is deeply concerning.