Prime Minister David Cameron defended his links to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson after Britain’s most senior police officer resigned amid the phone-hacking scandal at the Rupert Murdoch newspaper.
Cameron has cut short his visit to Africa in a bid to take control of the crisis that has led to Coulson’s arrest and questions about his dealings with Murdoch’s News Corp. The prime minister will be in Nigeria tomorrow while Murdoch and his son James give evidence to lawmakers about wrongdoing at the News of the World.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson quit yesterday, citing accusations about his force’s decision to hire Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of the newspaper who was arrested last week, to give public-relations advice. In his resignation statement, Stephenson raised the question of why it was wrong for him to have worked with Wallis, yet right for Cameron to have hired Coulson, Wallis’s former boss, as his head of communications.
“The situation in the police service is really quite different from the situation in government,” Cameron told reporters in Pretoria at a joint press conference with South African President Jacob Zuma. “The issues around them have had a marked bearing on public confidence into the police inquiry and indeed the police themselves.”
Praise for Coulson
The prime minister said there were no questions about the work Coulson had done for him between 2007 and January this year, when he quit as Cameron’s head of communications. Coulson resigned from the News of the World at the start of 2007 after one of his reporters was jailed for phone-hacking. He has always denied any knowledge of illegal activities at his paper.
Stephenson put pressure back on Cameron in his resignation statement by saying he had been unable to advise the prime minister in advance that Wallis was going to be arrested, with the attendant bad publicity for the police, because of Cameron’s closeness to Coulson.
“I did not want to compromise the prime minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr. Coulson,” Stephenson said. He directly contrasted his force’s decision to hire Wallis in 2009 with Cameron’s decision to take on Coulson.
“Unlike Mr. Coulson, Mr. Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation,” Stephenson said.
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