Coulson faces new hacking claim
Labour is set to step up pressure on the Prime Minister's communications director Andy Coulson, as the Commons debates allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World.
The emergency debate came amid fresh allegations by a former senior reporter on the Sunday tabloid that journalists routinely used private investigators to hack phones and access confidential records when Mr Coulson was editor.
Speaking to The Guardian, Paul McMullan, a former features executive and member of the NoW's investigations team, questioned Mr Coulson's assertion that he was not aware of hacking by staff.
The Guardian said that Mr McMullan was one of six former reporters to back up claims that obtaining information by potentially illegal means was rife on the paper during Mr Coulson's tenure from 2003-07 - something the News of the World strenuously denies.
He and the other former reporters said that private investigators were used routinely to gather information, and that reporters had to go through desk editors in order to commission their services. Mr McMullan told The Guardian that he personally commissioned private investigators to commit several hundred acts which could be regarded as unlawful.
As deputy features editor on the News of the World, he was in daily contact with a private investigator who sold confidential information from phone companies and government databases. And he said that reporters did not believe at the time that it was illegal to hack into voicemail.
"I don't think at the time senior editors at the paper thought it was an issue," said Mr McMullan. "Everybody was doing it. Coulson would certainly be well aware that the practice was pretty widespread. He is conceivably telling the truth when he says he didn't specifically know every time a reporter would do it. I wouldn't have told him. It wasn't of significance for me to say I just rang up David Beckham and listened to his messages. In general terms, he would have known that reporters were doing it."
And he added: "How can Coulson possibly say he didn't know what was going on with (private investigators)? He was the brains behind the investigations department. How can he say he had no idea about how it works?"
Mr Coulson has always denied any knowledge of the illegal eavesdropping at the NoW, for which ex-royal editor Clive Goodman and a private detective were jailed in 2007. The News International-owned paper insists that the Goodman case was isolated and there was no widespread culture of wrong-doing among staff. But former reporter Sean Hoare reignited the row last week by publicly claiming his boss had been aware of the activities.
Metropolitan Police officers are planning to interview Mr Hoare about his claims, and Assistant Commissioner John Yates said he is likely to speak to Mr Coulson as he considers whether to reopen the police probe.