British PM's media chief under pressure over hacking row

6th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pressure mounted on British Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief Monday over allegations he knew about illegal phone hacking by reporters when he was editor of a tabloid newspaper.

The use of hacking on the News of the World, which Andy Coulson edited from 2003 to 2007, was under renewed scrutiny after a story in the New York Times about the scandal, which in 2007 led to one of the tabloid's senior journalists being jailed.

The New York Times quoted a former News of the World reporter as saying Coulson knew about the hacking, amid claims from senior opposition politicians that police had failed to fully investigate the case first time around.

In response, London's Metropolitan Police has now said it would be prepared to investigate the allegation made in the New York Times by former reporter Sean Hoare.

A spokesman for Coulson -- who resigned from the newspaper after one of his editors was jailed three years ago, saying he took "ultimate responsibility" -- said he was ready to meet police voluntarily to discuss the claims.

"Mr Coulson emphatically denies these allegations. He has, however, offered to talk to officers if the need arises and would welcome the opportunity to give his view on Mr Hoare's claims," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Cameron's official spokesman told reporters that the premier accepts Coulson's position -- but did not respond directly to a question about whether Cameron believed his denials of involvement.

"He has full confidence in Andy Coulson and he continues to do his job," the spokesman said. "He has denied those allegations and the prime minister accepts that."

Coulson, Cameron's director of communications and a special adviser, is paid 140,000 pounds (167,000 euros, 215,000 dollars) a year of public money, only slighly less than Cameron himself.

Cameron's coalition government of his Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats faces awkward questions about the affair in the House of Commons Monday as it gets back to work following its summer recess.

A Labour lawmaker is to ask an urgent question demanding that Home Secretary Theresa May explains what action she intends to take following the most recent claims.

Labour's former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who believes he may have been targeted by News of the World phone hacking, has called for police to reopen their probe, saying he was "far from satisfied" with their handling of his case.

Clive Goodman, the tabloid's then editor handling stories about the royal family, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 after the phone messages of aides to Prince William, second in line to the throne, were illegally accessed.

Prominent police, military and sporting figures were also allegedly targeted in what was a major scandal.

The News of the World's recent scoops include the alleged involvement of Pakistani cricketers in a betting scam and details of the financial difficulties of Sarah Ferguson, ex wife of Queen Elizabeth II's son Prince Andrew.

© 2010 AFP

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