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As world media starts to report on Coulson, new witnesses come forward


9:07 am - September 9th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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MPs will today hold a debate on the phone-hacking allegations, no doubt keeping media momentum going for another day (it kicked off over 7 days ago).

But the Guardian’s report today is pretty damning:

Paul McMullan, a former features executive and then member of the newspaper’s investigations team, says that he personally commissioned private investigators to commit several hundred acts which could be regarded as unlawful, that the use of illegal techniques was no secret at the paper and that senior editors, including Coulson, were aware that this was going on. “How can Coulson possibly say he didn’t know what was going on with the private investigators?” he said.

How’s that for new allegations, Tories?

Will they accuse McMullan of ‘having problems’ as well, like they did with Sean Hoare?

Even the polling looks awful. Just over half of all people (52%) believe Coulson should lose his job, compared to 24% who think he should keep it.

Tom Watson points out that just 14% think the police conducted a full investigation.

The world’s media is also paying attention. The story is now being reported at the LA Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, The National in UAE, the Sidney Morning Herald and CNN.

This piece at the Atlantic is particularly biting:

The tabloid’s nonchalant invasion of privacy, and Scotland Yard’s willingness to look the other way–which senior police figures now say was a result of top cops’ chumminess with the News’ editors and its parent corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s News International–is consistent with the general ethos of cozy corruption that typified British politics for much of the last decade.

Ultimately, the scandal will present both a great risk and a serious opportunity for the fledgling coalition. Cameron can’t be blamed for how the Met behaved under its previous leadership. But he certainly will be judged by how his government responds to the allegations now.

Here’s one former reporter telling the Guardian: “How could senior editors not know that they are spending £2,000 a week on [Glenn Mulcaire] and using him on just about every story that goes into the paper?”

Coulson must either be supremely ignorant of what went on under his watch, or lying.

Another key witness, former News International employee Ross Hall, is now prepared to talk about his knowledge of transcribing intercepted voicemails.

This isn’t going to end anytime soon.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Of course you do know that being beleived to be generally ‘knowing’ what is going on around the office, is not the same thing as a case. ‘how could he have not known’ is not evidence.

Damning is what you want it to be, but it is not. Not without actual court presentable evidence that proves the case beyond reasonable doubt. I beleive that what the police concluded last time. After all if your version of evidence were the standard to be applied, then Tony Blair wouldhave been banged up right now over casg for honours….

Coulson must either be supremely ignorant of what went on under his watch, or lying.

Yup, it’s a disgrace. Coulson should resign from the editorship of the News of the World with immediate effect.

Dontmindme

This isn’t a court case we are talking abou.

One would hope eventually they’ll be able to lock him up at least for purgery or obstructing a police investigation (oh the irony of that would be so sweet)

But this is politics. He’s a spin doctor. Mandelson went over the Hinduja scandal and yet was utterly innocent of all claims (so it turned out) None of us believed that at the time and all figured he’s at best screwed up but more likely done something corrupt.

Campbell didn’t do anything likely to land him jail time – but he became the story and so had to go.

So it is with Coulson. He clearly knew. (I can say that too cos in civil law the argument “only an intnsely stupid man could have not known” does hold sway as victory is based only on a balance of likelyhoods) – The fact we can’t lock him up for it because we can’t find a smoking gun doesn’t mean he’s not politically screwed.

If phone hacking was so endemic and everyone knew how to do it, why bother to hire private detectives on two grand a week?

Any reporter could have been sent round the corner to Carphone Warehouse to pick up an untraceable pay-as-you-go.

It seems pretty obvious that NoW management didn’t know about the phone hacking, they merely knew that these “dark arts” guys somehow got results. I don’t suppose they inquired too deeply into how. They didn’t know and they didn’t want to know. A kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. While this may not have been a whiter-than-white policy morally, it probably wasn’t unlawful.

In short – he’s seems as guilty as a dog sitting next to a rather large pile of poo looking sheepish and whistling – and as such the public won’t trust him or his boss and so his boss will probably just have to pull the plug.

On a slightly more serious note, if it can be proved that Coulson knew and approved of accessing people’s voicemails then the situation changes. If all there is is allegations that ‘he must have known’ or ‘how on earth couldn’t he have known’ and so on, then there is no new evidence and nothing has changed.

This has already been the subject of one prosecution, two parliamentary reviews and one criminal investigation. Unless there’s genuinely new evidence to be had, then there is no reason to continue investigations.

Margin4eror,

I think you will find that the police investigation will ultimately define whether he stays or goes, because it is not Coulsons conduct whilst in govt that is at issue, but his past life at NOTW, and that can only be affected by police action.

“In short – he’s seems as guilty as a dog sitting next to a rather large pile of poo looking sheepish and whistling”

Of course If the dog ws in a park full of other dogs, it is always possible that another dog was there moments before you turned up. without a DNA or other biological test of the ‘matter’ you can make assumptions as much as you like, but you cant prove it.

In a court case the state would have to prove beyond reasonabe doubt that Coulson was involved in breaking the law. But wait, the police didn’t persue their investigations with much vigour. I wonder why……

In a disciplinary hearing NOTW would have to prove on balance of probabilities that Coulson knew about it. This is a lower standard of proof. But wait, Coulson pre-empted any disciplinary action by resigning (and admitting responsibility in a general sense only). No doubt this was also a convenient attempt at closure for NOTW because they chose to accept his resignation and didn’t institute any internal disciplinary action.

All of the above brings into question the judgement of Cameron who was well aware of the clouds around Coulson. At the time of hiring him, and at the time of taking him into government Cameron was warned of the risks. That he chose to stick with Coulson, and that the Tories are holding out so long as the case against Coulson strengthens, is an indication of Cameron’s dependence on his chief spin-doctor and therefore of Cameron’s weakness.

I liked this: “consistent with the general ethos of cozy corruption that typified British politics for much of the last decade.”

The Third Way in a nutshell.

In a disciplinary hearing NOTW would have to prove on balance of probabilities that Coulson knew about it.

Wtf is a disciplinary hearing?

All of the above brings into question the judgement of Cameron who was well aware of the clouds around Coulson. At the time of hiring him, and at the time of taking him into government Cameron was warned of the risks. That he chose to stick with Coulson, and that the Tories are holding out so long as the case against Coulson strengthens, is an indication of Cameron’s dependence on his chief spin-doctor and therefore of Cameron’s weakness.

Whereas firing him because the Guardian and the Labour Party want him to would be what? An indication of his strength?

At heart this is a pretty simple affair. The Guardian (and the Beeb) think they have a chance to stick one on Rupert Murdoch. Labour think they have a chance to stick one on the Tories. They’re only right if they can prove anything. If they can’t, then they’re all just generating a lot of heat, but no light.

Is it that he seems as guilty as a dog sitting next to a rather large pile of poo looking sheepish and whistling? Or that he seems as guilty as a man standing next to his dog sitting next to a rather large pile of poo? Or, rather, that he seems as guilty as man walking away from his many dogs, themselves sitting next to the combined end products of three slabs of Winalot, having fed them without being aware – but surely he should have known! – of what happens when you feed dogs.

It doesn’t really matter. Coulson’s not the story, and I don’t suppose it would be a huge blow if he stayed on.

Tim J: A disciplinary hearing is the appropriate forum under employment law to investigate misconduct.

This is not a “Labour issue”. It pertains to a serious crime (and company misconduct). Although they are circling the wagons now, senior Toriea raised their concerns with Cameron when he hired Coulson and when he took Coulson from opposition into government.

It is not weakness “to act” or “not act”. It is weakness when a Prime Minister is dependent on a single advisor/spin doctor in this way so that questions of his judgement are allowed to surface. a stronger Prime Minister would get Coulson to resign while the cloud is hanging over him, or would have taken a cleaner spin doctor into Downing Street with him in the first place

Tim J: A disciplinary hearing is the appropriate forum under employment law to investigate misconduct.

But irrelevant here, as it would pertain only to Coulson’s employment status, and the findings would be confidential.

It is not weakness “to act” or “not act”. It is weakness when a Prime Minister is dependent on a single advisor/spin doctor in this way so that questions of his judgement are allowed to surface.

Does this mean anything? Coulson is director of communications, and unless he is charged with a criminal offence, there is no reason to sack him. Coulson resigned from the editorship of the NoTW – I don’t see that it’s reasonable for him to wait three years and then resign from his new job over the same matter – is this supposed to be a permanent three year cycle? And ‘questions of his judgement’ is a code used by newspapers when their investigations haven’t thrown up anything solid – cf. Hague.

As to Cameron’s ‘reliance’ on Coulson, a quick trawl of the names offered as replacements ought to show that he’s anything but.

John McTernan’s view sounds quite sensible.

“The problem is that the attack on Andy Coulson, Cameron’s communications chief and the tabloid’s former editor, is transparently party-political. This is perfectly justifiable in terms of the Westminster game – as the old saying goes, any stigma to beat a dogma. However, the consequence is to make the Met a target. And whenever they’re asked to choose between the cops and the politicians, the public don’t hesitate to support the boys in blue.

The fight the MPs are spoiling for is with Coulson, and through him the PM. But the Met’s policy after “cash for peerages” is to be wary of politicised allegations, unsupported by evidence that would stand up in court. Yates spent most of his appearance before the committee patiently asking for such evidence, while impassioned MPs railed at him to embark on a fishing expedition.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/labour/7988527/Phone-tapping-row-I-know-what-its-like-to-face-John-Yates.html

16. Ken McKenzie

It’s also worth pointing out that if the allegations are correct, he deliberately misled the Select Committee, which no matter what your political persuasion is a clear resigning matter.

Whataboutery simply doesn’t work here, chaps. It really doesn’t. This is genuinely bad stuff and if you cared about democracy rather than your team winning. I’d have though the party of Aitken and Archer would be really, really keen not to be seen to be doing exactly the same things that got them thrown out on their backsides for 13 years, but it seems you never learn.

It’s also worth pointing out that if the allegations are correct, he deliberately misled the Select Committee, which no matter what your political persuasion is a clear resigning matter.

Yup (although under the last lot misleading the whole damn Commons didn’t seem to be a resigning matter). But that’s a fairly sizeable if you’re chucking in there. *If* the allegations were correct, you’d think that three years trying on the part of the Guardian and the NYT would have found some sort of proof.

Whataboutery simply doesn’t work here, chaps. It really doesn’t. This is genuinely bad stuff and if you cared about democracy rather than your team winning

I don’t actually believe it is “genuinely bad stuff”. Tabloid newspaper bends/breaks the law in pursuit of stories. Film at eleven. Listening in to peoples’ voicemails is, effectively, identical to opening and reading their mail. Illegal, immoral, and precisely the sort of thing that newspapers have done since such things existed.

If you want to *exactly the same comment thread, with exactly the same comments on exactly the same story* from a year ago, have a look here.

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/15/the-news-of-the-screws-is-screwed/

For what it’s worth, my take was: “Which means that, in order for this new (or rather semi-new) story to damage Coulson further it will have to be proven that he, personally, broke the law. If that doesn’t happen, what we’re left with is ‘tabloid journalism is horrid; Coulson worked on a tabloid’ – which is precisely where we already were.” Ah, the sweet smell of consistent opinions…

@Tim J

The new shit that has come out is about the probable collusion between the Met and News International. I doubt it will be mentioned in the Commons debate because all policians are ****s and want to have Uncle Rupe on side, but still – that’s the real story here.

#7

Nope – that’s clearly not true.

What will decide whether he goes or not is whether his boss decides that the ongoing saga is damaging to the Tory Party or to his control over the party and coalition.

If it continues to run and run then eventually the scales tip towards “just get rid and draw a line under”

I suspect in the end this is what will happen, especially if charges do arise as he can fairly comfortably quit saying that “because refuting the allegations will be a distraction from his job, I feel I should stand down until this is dealt with in full”

Then maybe he can be rehabilitated if he’s not found guilty of anything in court.

@16, quite right. Whataboutery does not work here.

Why so? Well, there is a general point at issue, and that is one of straightforward criminality. In the past, it was papers bunging Benji Pell to rummage through folks’ dustbins: today it’s someone trying to get hold of voicemail, email and personal records.

Merely because Andy Coulson finds himself in the crosshairs does not justify howling “non story”, whingeing about the Beeb supposedly being part of a conspiracy with the Guardian, the NYT and Labour (pace Tim Montgomerie the other day), or dragging up Cash For Honours.

Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist who has been leading this investigation, had been on the case well before Young Dave got the keys to 10 Downing Street: his invaluable book Flat Earth News – required reading, whatever your stripe – goes into some detail on the business with the Screws.

If the illegal conduct had been part of an attempt to bring down William ‘Ague, rather than anyone in the Labour Party, then those trying to shut the story down now, because it was uncomfortable and inconvenient to their side, would be the first to want enquiries and Police action.

This kind of behaviour does not observe party political boundaries.

S.Pill,

The new shit that has come out is about the probable collusion between the Met and News International. I doubt it will be mentioned in the Commons debate because all policians are ****s and want to have Uncle Rupe on side, but still – that’s the real story here.

No politicians will mention police corruption? Well, that’s the main problem with the case. You see, there is even less evidence for this than for Mr Coulson’s involvement – no ex-employees suggesting he must have known. I did regard this as a problem, but try as I might I can see any evidence that the Metropolitan Police have done anything more than prosecute where they have evidence. And speculation about the extent of the crimes (e.g. John Prescott claiming his voicemail was illegally accessed – why the hell was the Deputy Prime Minister still using the default pass code? – when there is no evidence of this) is not the same as showing crimes have been committed.

A simple question that needs answering. Other than the comments of journalists who are happy to talk to papers but for some reason not the police about a supposed crime (hardly suggestive that they think there evidence is in good faith or at lest useful), what actual evidence is there that the News of the World did engage in massive illegal access of personal voicemail boxes? Because the longer you keep pushing thin evidence and trying to incriminate someone who has already resigned over this (which looks vindicitive) the more this becomes seen as a political vendetta and the less it is seen as a genuine cause.

Watchman

Well two men in Coulson’s employ were convicted of doing it and the police seem to have been told about as many as 100 victims. Couple that with numerous journalists saying that the practice is somewhat widesprad and that it was endemic at the NotW – and the “its only a bunch of hacks saying it” defence doesn’t quite work.

That said – even if it did – journalists like talking to journalists and will no doubt continue to do so – hence eventually Coulson’s bad press, bad reputation, and general untrustworthyness is likely to make him a liability rather than asset for David Cameron.

That line may not have been crossed yet – but if those journalists keep talking to eachother…

eventually Coulson’s bad press, bad reputation, and general untrustworthyness is likely to make him a liability rather than asset for David Cameron.

Way to go yet though. The right-wing press were vocal in their dislike for Alastair Campbell for years and years. Ultimately, Coulson’s value or otherwise to the Govt is not determined on whether or not the Guardian likes him. The fact that Labour MPs so obviously don’t stands rather in his favour.

24. Ken McKenzie

Tim, this is *not* the same as Campbell. What did Campbell *actually* do? He was rude to journalists and did his job aggressively – and effectively? Did he commit any illegal acts? Did anyone working for him go to prison, forcing him to resign because he had to claim he had no idea how his own employees did their jobs? I’m not having Tories having fits of the vapours over Campbell being good at his job when he was following in a well-trodden path forged by, amongst others, Bernard Ingham, an absolute master of the off-the-record briefing and all the dark arts going. Ingham was bloody good at his job. Likewise Campbell. Tories hate Campbell because they were scared of him, because he was better at the job than anyone they had at the time – and most of all, because the Tories were supposed to have a monopoly on that kind of behaviour.

Coulson’s issues are different. First, they didn’t happen in a political capacity. Secondly, people *went to prison*. Because what they did was grossly illegal. Not ‘a bit rude’. Not even Damien McBride-esque grossly tasteless. Actually, flat out, illegal. And the Met did not properly investigate crimes *for which people went to prison* because, it seems, they had too close a relationship with the organisation involved. And people have been concerned about speaking out because they are scared of the organisation involved. This could actually be *good* for the Tories, because it may cut them loose from excessive NI influence. You do want that, don’t you?

Margin4error,

Well two men in Coulson’s employ were convicted of doing it and the police seem to have been told about as many as 100 victims. Couple that with numerous journalists saying that the practice is somewhat widesprad and that it was endemic at the NotW – and the “its only a bunch of hacks saying it” defence doesn’t quite work.

One man in Coulson’s emply technically – the other was brought in. And two men could easily be responsible for 100 victims, as it was hardly a time-consuming process (the lists of phone numbers were not stolen as far as we know). I agree the practice is probably widespread, and it is perhaps odd that Mr Coulson (and presumably the News of the World’s legal experts) did not ask how information was sourced, but this may be why private investigators are involved – it gives journalists deniability from their editors, who chose not to ask.

That said – even if it did – journalists like talking to journalists and will no doubt continue to do so – hence eventually Coulson’s bad press, bad reputation, and general untrustworthyness is likely to make him a liability rather than asset for David Cameron.

That line may not have been crossed yet – but if those journalists keep talking to eachother…

This assumes that people believe journalists, and there is something of a problem with that contention. I don’t like Mr Coulson, who is too much of a tabloid operator (which may be one reason the Conservatives did not win the last election…) but I can’t see that this story can reach him without direct evidence, which the Guardian and New York Times have failed to uncover. Journalists talking creates narratives, not facts, and I suspect Mr Coulson is well aware of this – indeed, expect him if the story is still rumbling in a few days to start referring to this as an artificial narrative or something similiar.

Coulson’s issues are different. First, they didn’t happen in a political capacity. Secondly, people *went to prison*. Because what they did was grossly illegal. Not ‘a bit rude’. Not even Damien McBride-esque grossly tasteless. Actually, flat out, illegal.

If you can prove that Coulson did anything illegal then go right ahead – it’s what the Guardian and the NYT have been looking for for three years after all. Oh, and libel is actually illegal (rather than merely tasteless), which is why McBride settled out of court.

Tories hate Campbell because they were scared of him, because he was better at the job than anyone they had at the time – and most of all, because the Tories were supposed to have a monopoly on that kind of behaviour.

Obvious BS to the second part of that, but the first part is reasonably accurate. And obviously applies equally well for Labour motives in trying to take out Coulson.

this may be why private investigators are involved – it gives journalists deniability from their editors, who chose not to ask.

Bullseye, I’d have thought.

“How’s that for new allegations, Tories?”

Well not very good, but as this all happened 2003-2007 just with Coulson and before that with Wade, I’d suggest that Labour were just as up to their necks as them.

Labour could, of course, have conducted a full Judicial Review on this, and didn’t. It’s only when Murdoch switched sides that they all started jumping up and down.

Watchman

Journalists talking does indeed create a narrative rather than fact. But do not underestimate the power of a narrative to weild political damage.

Tim

Agree – not close to him going yet unless something massive happens soon. But closer than a week ago, and in another week if this continues, closer still, and so on.

Also – shouldn’t underestimate possible concern at the NotW and the Sun that if this drags on it will eventually expose and undermine their imtimate relations with the Met – and as such Murdoch may tell his latest underling (Cameron) that it has gone too far and Coulson has to go. (Can’t have his papers being hurt)

Ken Mckenzie

We shouldn’t kid ourselves that Coulson and Campbell are at all equivelent. One was the absolute master of his trade – the other is just a guy in the same trade. Coulson is not as incompetent as he would like us to believe (and we’d have to believe it to think an editor didn’t even think to find out where such transcripts came from). But he is no where near the standard of Ingham and Campbell who utterly dominated the press agenda for years on their watches. They were of a totally different league.

Margin4error,

Journalists talking does indeed create a narrative rather than fact. But do not underestimate the power of a narrative to wield political damage.

Indeed, but a narrative needs fuel, and can be spiked or even turned round. If certain figures in Labour push this too much it can become the narrative of how they cyncially and politically are going after a man who has already atoned for his part in this affair by resigning his post (an honourable move, at least in the altered narrative). It wouldn’t take much skill to do this in a week’s time if the same suspects are still banging on with no new evidence – journalists need a new angle, and even the Guardian cannot run with the same story every day. Narrative is dangerous because you cannot control it, and others can seize it; journalists are untrustworthy and inconsistent to politicians, because their friends are the readers not the stories. And, unfortunately, the current state of the Labour party is such that managing to make this promissing narrative backfire on them would easily be within their abilities.

Tim J: The outcome of a disciplinary hearing is not always confidential. Shareholders have the right to expect that where the law and company policies are broken that disciplinary action will be taken against employees of the company. Coulson’s bosses are next in the firing line if it emerges that they knew or even suspected what he was up to and yet failed to uphold company policies and take discipinary action.

“Whataboutery simply doesn’t work here, chaps. It really doesn’t. This is genuinely bad stuff and if you cared about democracy rather than your team winning.”

The problem is that the other team are behaving in a party-political way about it. There is a potentially serious issue here which could well concern the entire press but all we heard from Labour and their cheerleaders are “Andy Coulson, Andy Coulson”.

To steal from cjcj’s post above:

John McTernan’s view sounds quite sensible.

“The problem is that the attack on Andy Coulson, Cameron’s communications chief and the tabloid’s former editor, is transparently party-political. This is perfectly justifiable in terms of the Westminster game – as the old saying goes, any stigma to beat a dogma. However, the consequence is to make the Met a target. And whenever they’re asked to choose between the cops and the politicians, the public don’t hesitate to support the boys in blue.

32. Chaise Guevara

“The problem is that the other team are behaving in a party-political way about it. There is a potentially serious issue here which could well concern the entire press but all we heard from Labour and their cheerleaders are “Andy Coulson, Andy Coulson”.”

You mean like how everyone got party-political over the false reports of Iraqi WMD and used it as an excuse to smear Blair?

33. Chaise Guevara

“However, the consequence is to make the Met a target. And whenever they’re asked to choose between the cops and the politicians, the public don’t hesitate to support the boys in blue”

I really doubt the fact that we tend to support the police by default is going to help them get away with colluding with the NotW, assuming that actually happened.

@24, interesting that you mention Bernard Ingham.

Ingham was a career civil servant. Alastair Campbell was a political appointee.

But, so what? Well, political appointees are not bound by the same rules: Canpbell was OK to give briefings and talking points. Ingham, as a civil servant, should not have strayed into areas such as when he described John Biffen as “semi detached”.

John McTernan’s view sounds quite sensible.

I already pointed out to him that only 14% of the public think the Met did a good job on this.

So I’m afraid the evidence doesn’t stand up. But he does like saying things that Telegraph readers like to hear.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    As world media starts to report on Coulson, new witnesses come forward http://bit.ly/apB5DO

  2. Chris Welch

    RT @libcon: As world media starts to report on Coulson, new witnesses come forward http://bit.ly/apB5DO

  3. Derek Bryant

    RT @libcon As world media starts to report on Coulson, new witnesses come forward http://bit.ly/apB5DO

  4. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: As world media starts to report on Coulson, new witnesses come forward: MPs will today hold a debate on t… http://bit.ly/9SWQOq

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    […] than previously planned. This was certainly not part of a transparent and obvious ploy to get the News of the World/Met Police phone-hacking scandal off the front […]

  6. Gideon Osborne and the Dodo of Keynes « New Politics Review

    […] than previously planned. This was certainly not part of a transparent and obvious ploy to get the News of the World/Met Police phone-hacking scandal off the front […]





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