David Blackburn

Coulson loosens the noose

Coulson loosens the noose
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The New York Times has produced what last year’s Guardian phone-hacking campaign lacked: direct testimony against Andy Coulson. Sean Hoare and an unnamed former News of the Screws editor allege that the practice was widespread and that Coulson encouraged it. These new revelations have rightly forced the Met to re-consider the case.

At present, the political furore surrounds the Met’s incompetence not just the allegations against Coulson. Bill Keller, executive editor of the NYT, has claimed categorically that the ‘police already have evidence that they have chosen not to pursue’. Critics always believed the original investigation's remit was too narrow, and Yates of the Yard was less than convincing when trying to dispel such criticism on this morning’s Today programme – his claim that ‘just because your name is on an invoice (of a private investigator) doesn’t mean your phone has been hacked’ does not establish the facts of specific allegations.   

The sources briefing against Coulson do not appear to be beyond reproach. Sean Hoare has emerged from nowhere and, according to News International, comes with a lot of liquid and powdered baggage, which will demean his evidence if true. The story will lack credence until the unnamed alleged former editor reveals his identity, blowing the whistle on News International’s supposed skulduggery, which Tina Brown hints at in today’s Daily Beast.

Coulson is not David Cameron’s chief spin doctor for nothing. He is right to have responded immediately and offered Scotland Yard an interview to rubbish the allegations. Delay and obfuscation would have allowed this story to, as Labour’s Tom Watson puts it, ‘run and run’. Now Coulson must convince of his innocence and repay Cameron's 'full confidence'.

UPDATE: Labour are gunning for a second Commons inquiry into alleged NOTW phone-hacking. Theresa May will face urgent questions from Tom Watson and others in the chamber at 3:30 this afternoon. From what I gather she will reject calls for a second inquiry, which seems the right call - there is no need to investigate while the police are examining new evidence. John Whittingdale, chairman of the commons culture committee, is also adamant that his committee's inquiry not be re-opened.

UPDATE 2: Committee investigations get political. Labour MP Keith Vaz's Home Affairs Committee will go where Tory John Whittingdale's Culture, Media and Sport Committee won't be interviewing John Yates over the phone-hacking scandal. It's a bit of an elaborate bluff: Yates can only really tell Vaz of his investigation's findings and progress. Owing to the question of jurisdiction, I doubt Vaz will be able to bring Coulson before his select committee.