by Stephen Tall on June 24, 2014
The long-awaited trial of David Cameron’s former director of communications, Andy Coulson, concluded today, with the jury finding him guilty of a charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails as part of the phone-hacking scandal. All Coulson’s co-defendants, including former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, were all found not guilty of various conspiracy charges.
It’s just over 7 years since Cameron appointed Coulson as the Conservatives’ communications director – we noted in May 2007 his connection to what became known as the phone hacking scandal but which back then was widely ignored by the media as an accepted practice. Two years later, in July 2009, and thanks to a concerted campaign by the Guardian into the extent of illegal activity, the Lib Dems called for an independent inquiry into newspapers’ phone-tapping.
Then it all went a bit quiet again, with Andy Coulson transferring from Tory HQ to Number 10, and Lib Dem ministers leaving it to the party’s backbenchers to increase the pressure as the net closed in during autumn 2010. Eventually Coulson realised he was committing the cardinal ‘spin sin’ and becoming the story: he resigned in January 2011.
A few months later, the four year-old phone hacking story officially graduated into a full-blown scandal after the Milly Dowler revelations. Had Coulson still been in post at the time, David Cameron’s position would have been severely weakened, possibly fatally. As it was, Nick Clegg’s intervention left Cameron with no choice but to set up a wide-ranging, independent, judge-led inquiry in July 2011 – what became the Leveson Inquiry and then the Leveson Report.
And today, finally, David Cameron issued an unreserved apology for his decision in 2007 to hire Andy Coulson to be his right-hand man:
“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 that I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today. I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I’m very clear about that.
“I asked him questions about if he knew about phone hacking and he said that he didn’t and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job. I would say that no one has made any complaints about the work that he did for me either as Leader of the Opposition or indeed here in Number 10 Downing Street, but knowing what I now know and knowing that those assurances weren’t right it was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision.”
It’s embarrassing for the Prime Minister to have to make such an apology – but its swift and fulsome buck-stops-here admission will probably enable Cameron to draw a line under it all.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.