Cameron aide denies hacking

2010-09-06 21:18

London - British Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief denied on Monday that he encouraged reporters to illegally hack into phone messages in his previous role as a tabloid newspaper editor.

Cameron backed communications chief Andy Coulson over the issue which has resurfaced following reports in the New York Times and on the BBC last week. Critics of Cameron, who took power in May, are questioning his judgment in appointing Coulson to such a sensitive post.

Coulson, aged 42, also said he would be happy to speak to London police if they wanted to pursue the allegations. Police have said they will consider any new evidence.

The issue focuses on Coulson's time as editor of the racy Sunday News of the World tabloid, Britain's best-selling newspaper and part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp stable.

In 2007, Clive Goodman, who reported on the royal family for the paper, was jailed for four months after writing stories based on information from a private detective who had illegally accessed the voicemail messages of palace aides.

The newspaper has always maintained that Goodman acted without the knowledge of senior editors, including Coulson. Coulson, who quit after the scandal, has said he knew nothing of the practice which he blamed on a rogue reporter.

The New York Times reported last week that illegal eavesdropping by reporters at the paper was widespread. Since then, former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare has said in a BBC interview that Coulson knew of it.

Motives questioned

"Andy Coulson has today told the Metropolitan Police that he is happy to voluntarily meet with them following allegations made by Sean Hoare," a spokesperson for Coulson said.

"Mr Coulson emphatically denies these allegations. He has, however, offered to talk to officers if the need arises and would welcome the opportunity to give his view on Mr Hoare's claims."

The News of the World has questioned the New York Times' motives in pursuing the case, saying there was a conflict of interest in investigating a rival newspaper group. News Corp's newspapers in the United States include the Wall Street Journal.

Cameron was standing by a man he appointed in 2007 when he was in opposition.

"He has full confidence in Andy Coulson and he (Coulson) continues to do his job," a spokesperson for the prime minister told reporters at a briefing dominated by the issue.

Coulson earns an annual salary of £140 000, almost the equivalent of what Cameron earns. However, he mainly operates in a background role and is not a familiar face to the average voter beyond London political and media circles.