Cameron says hacking probe to be widened, regrets hiring Coulson (Second Lead)

July 20th, 2011 - 9:23 pm ICT by IANS  

David Cameron London, July 20 (IANS) British Prime Minister David Cameron Wednesday told members of the Commons that the probe into phone-hacking scandal would be widened, and “with hindsight” said he should not have hired ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

He cut short his Africa visit to attend a special session of the Commons and make an emergency statement on the phone hacking crisis.

Coming closest to apologising, Cameron said: “Of course I regret, and I am extremely sorry, about the furore it has caused.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of a “catastrophic error of judgement”.

Cameron said if Coulson, who was his former media spokesman, had lied about phone hacking during his time at the News of the World (NOTW), he should face “severe” criminal charges, BBC reported.

He added: “If it turns out I have been lied to, that would be a moment for a profound apology, and in that event I can tell you I will not fall short.”

Cameron also told MPs that with hindsight “I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it”.

To which, Miliband said this was “not good enough”.

“The country has the right to expect that the prime minister would have made every effort to know the facts about Coulson, to protect himself and his office,” he said.

Cameron also faced a number of questions from Labour MPs, asking if he had broken the ministerial code by discussing Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take control of British broadcaster BSkyB with News International executives such as Rebekah Brooks.

“I never had any inappropriate conversations,” the prime minister replied.

On Tuesday, 10, Downing Street released emails showing that Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn had prevented senior police officers from briefing the Tory leader over the phone-hacking investigation.

Coulson’s former deputy at the News of the World, Neil Wallis, also gave “informal” advice to the Conservative Party ahead of the election, the party confirmed.

Both Wallis and Coulson have since been arrested and questioned by detectives on the new phone-hacking inquiry launched earlier this year.

A parliamentary committee report released Wednesday found that Rupert Murdoch’s News International company “deliberately” tried to block a police probe into phone hacking by the News of the World. The finding came a day after Murdoch and his son James testified before the committee.

It said the company “deliberately” tried to “thwart” the 2005-2006 Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking carried out by the News of the World, according to the Guardian newspaper.

The report also said that police have failed to examine a vast amount of material that could have identified others involved in the phone-hacking conspiracy and victims.

The conclusion about the News International hampering the police investigation comes after the committee heard evidence from senior Metropolitan officers, who were involved in the case, that the newspaper publisher obstructed justice.

Subsequent developments and handing over of documents by the publisher are alleged to show the practice of phone hacking was much more widespread than the company ever admitted.

Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s chief of staff, was dragged into the phone-hacking scandal Tuesday when two of the country’s most senior police officers revealed Llewellyn had urged them not to brief the prime minister on developments.

Llewellyn sought to stop information about the scandal being passed on to the prime minister in September, a few days after the New York Times ran an article that claimed Andy Coulson had been aware of the use of the illegal practice when he edited the News of the World, the Guardian said.

Committee chair Keith Vaz, MP, said: “There has been a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan Police and deliberate attempts by News International to thwart the various investigations.”

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