Phone hacking: British PM grilled by parliamentary panel

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on July 21, 2011

The day after Mr Rupert Murdoch's appearance at a British parliamentary committee was watched by millions, it was the country's Prime Minister who faced a grilling by MPs.

At a raucous and packed emergency session of the House of Commons, the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, defended his decision to hire a former News of the World editor at the centre of the phone hacking scandal, but added that with “hindsight” he would not have done so.

Mr Cameron did not apologise for his decision to hire Mr Andy Coulson as his communications director, but said he was “sorry about the furore it has caused”.

He said he also accepted “full responsibility” for hiring Mr Coulson, and should it be revealed that Mr Coulson lied to him about not knowing anything about the hacking scandal, he would make a “profound apology”.

Mr Cameron had cut short a tour of Africa to attend the emergency session of Parliament, which had been scheduled to close for the summer on Tuesday. Mr Rupert Murdoch appeared before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday, alongside his son Mr James, describing it as the “most humble day” of his life.

The elder Murdoch denied that the company had been guilty of “willful blindness” about the hacking allegations, but denied personally knowing many details of what went on.

The hacking scandal has rocked the British establishment, revealing highly unsavoury details about the relationship between the police, politicians and media. The crisis has hit the British Prime Minister hard, with Mr Cameron's satisfaction ratings falling to their lowest since he became Prime Minister, according to a poll published by Reuters/Ipsos Mori on Wednesday. Fifty-three per cent of those polled were dissatisfied with the way he was performing as Prime Minister.

Mr Coulson who had stepped own as editor of the News of the World, resigned as Mr Cameron's Director of Communications in January. Mr Cameron has faced criticism over his decision firstly to hire Mr Coulson and then to keep him on, despite warnings including from The Guardian newspaper and Labour MP, Mr Tom Watson.

“It was a deliberate attempt to hide from the facts about Mr Coulson,” said Mr Ed Milliband, leader of the main opposition Labour Party on Wednesday. He described the decision to keep Mr Cameron as a “catastrophic” error of judgement.

The Prime Minister was also forced to defend his relationship with News Corp, following relations that since taking office, he had met with representatives of News Corp on 26 separate occasions.

He failed to clarify that he had not discussed News Corp's bid to buy BSkyB with News Corp executives, despite the question being repeated again and again by MPs, creating considerable anger in the House.

Earlier in the day, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee accused News International of trying to “deliberately thwart” the original investigation into phone hacking back in 2006.

“There has been a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan Police, and deliberate attempts by News International to thwart the various investigations,” said Mr Keith Vaz MP, the Indian-origin chairman of the committee.

Also on Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced that the remit of a previously announced judge-led inquiry would be extended to include other police forces and other media organisations including social media and broadcast media. The inquiry is expected to make its first report on the first part of the inquiry within a year.

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Published on July 21, 2011
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