British PM's media chief quits in phone-hack row

21st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief resigned on Friday after months of pressure to quit over phone-hacking claims at a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper.

Andy Coulson has been under strain over allegations of widespread hacking of mobile phone messages by journalists at the News of the World when he was editor of the paper, from which he resigned in 2007.

"I can today confirm that I've resigned as Downing Street director of communications," Coulson said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, continued coverage of events connected to my old job at the News of the World has made it difficult for me to give the 110 percent needed in this role."

"I stand by what I've said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it's time to move on."

Cameron said in a statement that he was "very sorry" that Coulson was going but added that he could "understand that the continuing pressures on him and his family mean that he feels compelled to do so."

Coulson played a key role in helping propel Conservative leader Cameron to power in elections in May 2010.

"Andy has told me that the focus on him was impeding his ability to do his job and was starting to prove a distraction for the government," Cameron said.

The hacking saga has refused to die down since the News of the World's royal correspondent and a private investigator were jailed in 2007 for conspiracy to access mobile phone messages involving Princes William and Harry.

Coulson resigned as editor of the paper, owned by Australian-born media tycoon Murdoch, although he insisted he knew nothing about it the affair.

He signed up as Cameron's communications director later in 2007.

Police revived their investigation in September and interviewed Coulson as a witness last year after a journalist said Coulson had encouraged him to hack voice mails.

They said in December there was no evidence to bring charges after several witnesses refused to testify.

But the case flared up again earlier this month when Ian Edmondson, the paper's assistant editor for news, was suspended over what it called "serious allegations."

Prosecutors said a week ago they would review police material after actress Sienna Miller sued the paper for harassment and for breaching her privacy.

A document lodged at the High Court in London links Edmondson with the interception of voicemail messages from the phone of Hollywood actress Miller.

Coulson's resignation announcement appeared timed to coincide with a busy news day in Britain, with former premier Tony Blair making a second appearance at the Iraq war inquiry and the fallout continuing from the departure of opposition finance spokesman Alan Johnson on Thursday due to personal problems.

Coulson said it had been a "privilege and an honour to work for David Cameron for three-and-a-half years. I'm extremely proud of the part I've played in helping him reach No 10 and during the coalition's first nine months.

© 2011 AFP

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