Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

'Sorry' PM sees value of hindsight

David Cameron said 'with hindsight' he would never have appointed Andy Coulson as his communications chief
David Cameron said 'with hindsight' he would never have appointed Andy Coulson as his communications chief
Ed Miliband

Prime Minister David Cameron has come under renewed pressure over the phone-hacking scandal, as he told MPs he is "extremely sorry" for the furore caused by his appointment of Andy Coulson as Downing Street communications chief.

Mr Cameron said that "with hindsight" he would never have recruited the former News of the World editor, and said Mr Coulson should face "severe" criminal charges if it turns out that assurances he gave that he knew nothing about phone-hacking were lies.

Fresh questions are also being asked about the Prime Minister's role in the News Corporation bid for BSkyB, after aides admitted he could not rule out having discussed the deal in private conversations with the company's executives.

Labour said Mr Cameron's failure to respond to repeated questions in the Commons over whether BSkyB was mentioned in meetings with News International executives including Rebekah Brooks makes the Prime Minister look "slippery".

But the PM's office insisted Mr Cameron never had any "inappropriate" conversations about the bid and always ensured he was excluded from the process of reaching a decision on the deal, which was the responsibility of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Mr Hunt, meanwhile, said any conversations the PM did have about the deal would have been "irrelevant".

MPs were recalled to Parliament for an additional day ahead of their summer recess to hear an emergency statement from the Prime Minister on the hacking affair and the resignations of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and assistant commissioner John Yates. It was then followed by a lengthy debate on the controversy.

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons he would make a "profound apology" if Mr Coulson's assurances that he knew nothing about phone-hacking during his time as News of the World editor turned out to be wrong.

The PM said he took responsibility for the decision to recruit Mr Coulson as media adviser in 2007 - just months after Mr Coulson resigned from the Sunday tabloid when it emerged that a reporter had hacked phones on his watch - and then to bring him into 10 Downing Street as director of communications after last year's election.

Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of repeatedly ignoring warnings about the danger of keeping Mr Coulson at the heart of government, but Mr Cameron told the Commons: "With 20:20 hindsight and all that has followed I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it," he said. "But you don't make decisions in hindsight, you make them in the present. You live and you learn and believe you me, I have learned."

Later at a meeting of Conservative backbenchers, Mr Cameron refused to apologise for courting the media and insisted his action over phone hacking had been "decisive, frank and transparent".

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