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Government pressed over Coulson row

Labour has called for an urgent Government statement to MPs on the allegations surrounding phone-hacking at the News of the World at a time when Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson was its editor.

Leadership candidates Ed Balls and Ed Miliband said the allegations threw the judgment of Prime Minister David Cameron into question.

Mr Balls urged the PM to order Home Secretary Theresa May to make a statement to MPs when the House of Commons returns from its summer break on Monday.

But Government minister Alan Duncan came to the defence of Mr Coulson, who he said had been "utterly exonerated" by a series of investigations into the phone-hacking affair. Mr Duncan accused Labour of seizing on a story in the New York Times to stir up political trouble for the Government.

A News of the World journalist and a private investigator were jailed in 2007 for hacking into voicemail messages. But Mr Coulson has always strenuously denied being aware of their activities and the News International publication insists it was an isolated case.

But the NYT this week quoted former reporters at the paper claiming that the practice was more widespread, and that the then editor knew about it. The report also raised questions about the thoroughness of the Metropolitan Police's investigation of later claims that a list of prominent individuals were targeted for eavesdropping.

The Met on Friday night defended its handling of the allegations, after former home secretary Alan Johnson suggested that an independent investigation by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary might be needed.

An investigation last year, whose conclusions were endorsed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, found "no new evidence", said a Scotland Yard spokesman.

Mr Duncan dismissed the NYT story, which he suggested was motivated by the paper's rivalry with the News Corporation-owned Wall Street Journal.

In a series of media appearances, Mr Duncan said that Labour was resorting to "specious games and gimmicks" to try to embarrass the Government.

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