David Blackburn

Coulson escapes unscathed 

Coulson escapes unscathed 
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So far, so good for Andy Coulson and the Tories. The former News of the World editor’s appearance before the Culture Select committee earlier today passed without further revelations. And, despite the efforts of Labour spin doctors, this remains a media scandal, not a political one.

The real drama occurred when the News of the World’s lawyer, Tom Crone, and editor Colin Myler gave evidence, and even that was pretty tame. Illustrating that there are no new revelations, the committee asked further questions concerning the emailed transcript of a tapped conversation sent by a junior reporter to Neville Thurlbeck, NotW’s chief reporter. Collective amnesia seems to have beset the NotW: Crone, the junior reporter and Thurlbeck recall next to nothing about this email.

Labour MP Paul Farrelly wished to know the whereabouts of the junior reporter and was informed by Crone that he was in Peru. Myler was quick to clarify that the reporter had not been sent there but was on holiday voluntarily. Then the Committee attacked.

Tory MP Philip Davies doubted Goodman was a lone rogue reporter. ‘What interest would the royal editor Goodman have in the taped conversations of Elle Macpherson?’ It was an incisive point, but Crone and Myler remained defensive, citing the conclusions of that arch sleuth ‘Yates of the Yard’: “No additional evidence has come to light since this began and I see no reason to continue the enquiry.” Still the committee pushed, fixated with Ms Macpherson.

Eventually, Myler lost his cool, launching an ill-advised tirade. “If you share an office with an MP who’s a crook does that make you one?” The outburst received frosty glares from the panel. He compounded his error by claiming the contentious email “was not redacted, unlike MPs’ expenses”. This would have been a rhetorical knock out had it been true – the email was actually replete with black bars.

The first session overran by nearly an hour, perhaps this left the MPs mentally drained when it came to grilling Coulson. He swanned through the session, straight-batting everything with the very reasonable observation that at no point has he been implicated in any skulduggery. The only awkward moment arose when Plaid MP Adam Price forced Coulson to admit that he never queried Clive Goodman’s sources, and that he no recollection of a story about Prince William mimicking Prince Harry’s then girlfriend Chelsey Davey, ripped by Goodman from the Princes’ phones. But the demob-happy MPs did not take the opportunity to question Coulson’s judgement, and proceedings became more and more sedate. Even the usually bullish Tom Watson did not attempt to draw Coulson’s blood; in fact, Coulson drew Watson’s, comparing his ignorance of Goodman’s activities to Watson’s innocence in Damian McBride’s connivances.

The session ended - the committee neither wiser nor better informed. How could they be anything other? No evidence suggesting that Coulson or any other NotW journalist were aware of tapping has emerged. As Pete has said, unless that changes Coulson is safe. The Tory leadership will certainly be relieved.