Pressure on Coulson as phone hacking row reopens

By Ian Dunt

The row over phone hacking at the News of the World has been reopened by claims the practise was widespread under Andy Coulson.

According to a New York Times report, the Tory party head of communications was well aware of the practise when he was still editor of News of the World.

The allegations come after a Guardian report last year which suggested phone hacking was rife at the tabloid.

They raise serious concerns about Mr Coulson and the Conservatives, as well as Scotland Yard and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which both failed to expand their investigations last year after they were provided with new evidence.

Mr Coulson resigned from the News of the World when its Royal correspondent Clive Goodman was jailed for four months in the royal phone tapping scandal. At that point, sources insisted the row was the result of one bad apple, but that it was not widespread.

But the New York Times investigation, which has been ongoing for several months, suggests Mr Coulson freely discussed the illegal practise with staff.

The newspaper cites two former News of the World journalists who claim Mr Coulson was directly aware of the techniques being used.

“Everyone knew,” an unnamed senior reporter told the investigation. “The office cat knew.”

The story could bring considerable heat to bear on Mr Coulson, who last year told a Commons committee: “I have never had any involvement in it at all.”

An unnamed source from the Metropolitan police, which refused to further investigate the case in the aftermath of the Guardian report last year, suggested Scotland Yard was “reluctant” to conduct a wider inquiry due to its relationship with News of the World.

“I absolutely deny these allegations,” Mr Coulson said last night.

Bill Akass, managing editor of the News of the World, dismissed the New York Times story.

“We reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that the activities of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, at the time of their arrest, were part of a culture of wrongdoing at the News of the World and were specifically sanctioned or accepted at a senior level in the newspaper,” he said.

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