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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Controversy to be reopened

Just as it was thought that the storm had abated an emergency hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is to be convened on Tuesday to hear evidence from David Cameron's communications director and former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson over that paper's phone-tapping scandal. He will be joined by Sun editor Rebekah Brooks (née Wade) and former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner. The Independent on Sunday reports:

The Tory spin-doctor, who resigned as the paper's editor two years ago over the affair, will be asked to put on the record a categorical denial that he knew nothing of the illegal activities of journalists on his former paper.

The committee will also focus on whether Mr Coulson can remain as one of Mr Cameron's closest aides in Downing Street, because the phone-tapping scandal happened on his watch. Until last week, Mr Coulson had refused publicly to deny knowledge of the activities of the then royal editor of the paper, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

While there is no suggestion Mr Coulson has misled MPs or done anything wrong, some Tories are concerned that the continuing affair could be damaging to the Conservatives and their relationship with the Royal Family, which was the target of major hacking activity by Goodman.

Members of the select committee are also angry that evidence given to them during their investigation into the affair two years ago by other News of the World executives appeared to stop short of the full story.

Les Hinton, at the time News International chairman, told the committee in 2007 that Goodman had been acting alone. Yet an investigation by The Guardian this month claimed the practice was widespread. News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, who will also be called by the committee, is alleged to have been involved in illegal activity. One committee source said yesterday: "There are some members who believe that the wool was pulled over their eyes when they first investigated this in 2007."

The outcome of this investigation will be crucial in determining whether David Cameron can keep Coulson as his chief spin doctor. The paper says that there are question marks as to whether the Tory leader checked what Mr. Coulson knew before he employed him.

The loss of such an important member of Cameron's team could be a body blow to the Tories though the Independent thinks that Coulson himself may fall on his feet. They believe that he is in line to succeed Rebekah Brooks as editor of The Sun in September.
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