Alex Massie

Breaking: Screws Editor Knew How Paper Got Its Stories! Shocker!

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Boom! Phone-hacking is back and it's yet more bad news for Andy Coulson and, by extension, David Cameron. The Prime Minister's problem is that we are tasked with believing that he believed the former News of the World editor when Coulson claimed to have had no knowledge of phone-hacking (and other criminal acts) during his time at the paper.

At best the Tory leader was deliberately naive; more probably - common sense tells us - he appreciated that the immediate advantages to having Coulson on his team were greater than the potential for embarrassment at some uncertain point in the future. Perhaps nothing would come of it anyway! Fingers crossed! It was a risk worth taking and, in as much as Coulson played a part in getting Cameron to Downing Street, one that paid-off too.

But it has done so at a price. Sure, as David says, Clive Goodman's revelations have not been tested in court but, on the evidence of his letter to News International appealling against his dismissal, they are dreadful news for Coulson since Goodman appears to confirm what one has long suspected: the notion he was a "rogue reporter" was and had to be a nonsense.

Goodman's letter is quite something. On March 2nd, 2007 the disgraced Royal reporter wrote to Daniel Clarke, head of HR at News International, claiming:

The decision [to sack Goodman] is perverse in that the actions leading to this criminal charge were carried out with the full knowledge and support of [REDACTED]. Payment for Glen Mulcaire's services was arranged by [Redacted].

The decision is inconsistent, because [REDACTED] and other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures. The prosecution counsel, the counsel for Glen Mulcaire, and the judge at the sentencing hearing agreed that other News of the World employees were the clients for Mulcaire's five solo substantive charges. This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor [Andy Coulson]. As far as I am aware, no other member of staff has faced disciplinary action, much less dismissal.

My conviction and imprisonment cannot be the real reason for my dismissal. The legal manager, Tom Crone, attended virtually every meeting of my legal team and was given full access to the Crown Prosecution Service's evidence files. He, and other senior staff on the paper, had long advance knowledge that I would plead guilty. Despite this, the paper continued to employ me. Throughout my suspension, I was given book serialisations to write and was consulted on several occasions about royal stories they needed to check. The paper continued to employ me for a substantial part of my custodial sentence.

Tom Crone and the Editor promised me on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me. Emphasis added. note too, that Goodman copied his letter to Les Hinton, CEO of News International and Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man.

So all this is embarrassing for Cameron since he will, presumably and presuming Goodman's allegations are correct (who knows, perhaps they're not!), have to protest that he's dismayed by the fact that one of his senior advisors may have been less than truthful in his dealings with the Tory leader. At best, as I say, Cameron was knowingly naive. The truth is likely to be a little shabbier than that and it's only the fact that the public may not care tuppencence about much of this that spares the Prime Minister still more embarrassment. But that's the price of supping with too short a spoon or, actually, of supping at all. 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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