U.K.'s Cameron Faces Questions Over Coulson

By Dow Jones Business News, 

LONDON--Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday was forced to parry accusations that he had ignored warnings before hiring disgraced former tabloid editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief.

In a rowdy session in Parliament, Mr. Cameron repeated his apology for hiring Mr. Coulson, saying he had done so on the basis of assurances he had received from the former editor and noting that a judge-led inquiry had made no criticism of his conduct.

The opposition Labour party has accused Mr. Cameron of being so keen to cozy up to the influential media empire of Rupert Murdoch that he was willfully negligent in hiring Mr. Coulson.

Mr. Coulson was found guilty on Tuesday of conspiring to intercept voice-mail messages while he worked at News Corp's now-defunct News of the World newspaper.

"Today we know that for four years the prime minister's hand-picked closest advisor was a criminal and brought disgrace to Downing Street. We now also know the prime minister willfully ignored multiple warnings about him [Mr. Coulson]," Ed Miliband, the leader of the center-left opposition Labour Party, told Parliament.

In response, Mr. Cameron accused Mr. Miliband of raking over old ground that had already been covered by a public inquiry into the culture and workings of the press led by Judge Brian Leveson, which was triggered by the revelations of phone hacking.

"All of these issues, every single warning, was dealt with by the Leveson inquiry.. I know he [Mr. Miliband] can't bear it, but Leveson made no criticism of my conduct in this regard whatsoever," the prime minister said, adding that the opposition leader had agreed on the terms of reference of the inquiry and should accept its findings.

Mr. Cameron hired Mr. Coulson in 2007 while in opposition, shortly after Mr. Coulson resigned from the top editing job at News of the World, and then kept him on after becoming prime minister in 2010. Mr. Coulson stepped down from the paper after two people there were found guilty of separate counts of phone hacking. At the time he said he had no knowledge of the practice.

Mr. Coulson resigned as Mr. Cameron's head of communications in 2011 when the scandal flared up again.

Mr. Miliband noted that unlike his predecessors in the communications job at 10 Downing St., Mr. Coulson hadn't been vetted for the highest level of security clearance. Mr. Cameron should have insisted on it, Mr. Miliband said.

In response, Mr. Cameron said the Leveson inquiry had also covered that ground and concluded that security clearance was a matter for civil service to decide, not the prime minister or Mr. Coulson. He added that the inquiry also found that the process of considering Mr. Coulson for high security clearance wouldn't have involved an investigation into his conduct at the News of the World.

"What the right honorable gentleman [Mr. Miliband] is trying to do is go though all of the old questions that were answered by the Leveson inquiry--he didn't like the answers because he wanted to try and prove some cooked-up conspiracy between the Conservatives and News International [now News UK]. He cannot manage to do it because the Leveson inquiry can't find it," he said.

News Corp owns The Wall Street Journal.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on Wednesday on two counts faced by Mr. Coulson and Clive Goodman, a former royals reporter at News of the World, of conspiracy to commit misconduct, or bribery, by paying public officials in the pursuit of stories.

Write to Nicholas Winning at nick.winning@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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This article appears in: News Headlines

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