Phone-hacking case: Andy Coulson 'happy' to meet police

Andy Coulson Andy Coulson told MPs last year that he did not "use or condone" phone tapping

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Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson has told the Metropolitan Police he is happy to meet them voluntarily about phone-hacking claims.

Former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare has alleged former editor Mr Coulson asked him to hack into phones, a claim Mr Coulson denies.

The Met said new material had emerged that would be considered by officers.

Home Secretary Theresa May has told Parliament it was up to the Met to decide the best course of action.

A spokesman for Mr Coulson said: "Andy Coulson has today told the Metropolitan Police that he is happy to voluntarily meet them following allegations made by Sean Hoare.

"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."

Mr Coulson came under fresh pressure last week after former journalists told the New York Times that the practice of phone hacking was far more extensive than the newspaper acknowledged when police first investigated the case.

In light of the new information, Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've always said that if any new material or new evidence was produced then we would consider it.

He said the New York Times and the Met Police had been in touch for many months regarding the story but Mr Hoare's interview was the first "new evidence" they had been able to produce. He said officers would now consider the information and consult with the Crown Prosecution Service before taking any action.

In a statement published by the New York Times website, executive editor Bill Keller said Scotland Yard had declined "repeated requests" for interviews and bids for information during that time.

He said: "After our story was published, Scotland Yard expressed renewed interest in the case and asked us to provide interview materials and notes; we declined, as we would with any such request from police. Our story speaks for itself and makes clear that the police already have evidence that they have chosen not to pursue."

Response questioned

On Monday, Ms May told the House of Commons the allegations of phone-hacking had been investigated thoroughly before by different parties but this particular case was still a police "operational matter" and the government would wait for the police before making its decision.

She added: "The Metropolitan Police have made it clear if there is fresh evidence, then they will consider it.

"It is for the Metropolitan Police on an operational matter to decide what the right course of action is."

But Labour MP Tom Watson responded: "The integrity of our democracy is under scrutiny around the world and the home secretary must not make it a laughing stock".

Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service in this case had to be subjected to greater scrutiny in light of the revelations by the New York Times.

He asked how many people who may have been affected were informed and sought assurances Mr Coulson would not be involved in "any way" in the government's response to the latest allegations.

He said: "When I was home secretary dealing with this case there was nobody anywhere in government who was implicated. Now there is."

Earlier he had suggested there could be an investigation by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary or a judicial review.

'Allegations denied'

Lawyer Tamsin Allen from Bindmans LLP said her clients, who include former Labour minister Chris Bryant and former senior Met officer Brian Paddick, wanted the police's decision-making in this case to be "properly scrutinised".

Her firm said it would issue a judicial review challenging the Met's decision not to release information to those who were potentially affected by the phone-hacking allegations.

The News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for conspiracy to access phone messages in 2007, along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, but the paper has insisted that this was an isolated case.

The House of Commons Culture and Media Committee criticised the conduct of the News of the World's journalists but found no evidence that Mr Coulson either approved phone-hacking by his paper, or was aware it was taking place.

And in 2009, the Met chose not to launch an investigation following the Guardian's claims that News of the World journalists were involved in widespread phone hacking of several thousand celebrities, sports stars and politicians.

Culture committee chairman John Whittingdale told the BBC he was against MPs reopening their inquiry into the claims.

He said the committee's previous investigation was as detailed as it could be at the time and it stood by its conclusions.

Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz said Mr Yates would be asked about the latest developments in the inquiry when he appears before it on another matter on Tuesday.

The prime minister's spokesman said David Cameron had full confidence in Mr Coulson, who continues to do his job.

The spokesman said: "We have a number of stories in the newspapers. These allegations have been denied."

As far as the prime minister was concerned nothing had changed said the spokesman, adding: "These matters have been gone over many times in the past."

Action call

So far most of the pressure on the government has come from opposition Labour politicians but on Monday, some Liberal Democrats also voiced their concerns.

Labour leadership contender Ed Balls, former Labour minister Tessa Jowell, who says her phone was hacked 28 times, and former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, who also believes he was targeted, have all called for action.

Mr Balls said Mr Coulson's role at the heart of Number 10 meant that the government's "integrity" was under question.

Lord Prescott threatened legal action in his bid to gain access to documents relating to his records.

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, who is in charge of his party's backbench home affairs committee, told the BBC he has "misgivings" about the way the police handled the hacking investigation

Andy Coulson gave evidence to MPs in July 2009

Mr Brake said given the scale of the allegations and number of people involved, he would have expected the police to look at separate cases individually.

His colleague Caroline Pidgeon, who is the leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said a new team may be needed to run a fresh investigation.

Mr Hoare told the New York Times he was fired from the News of the World during a period when he was struggling with drink and drugs.

The News of the World has rejected "absolutely any suggestion there was a widespread culture of wrongdoing" at the newspaper.

It said in a statement: "The News of the World repeatedly asked the New York Times to provide evidence to support their allegations and they were unable to do so.

"Indeed, the story they published contained no new credible evidence and relied heavily on anonymous sources, contrary to the paper's own editorial guidelines.

"In so doing they have undermined their own reputation and confirmed our suspicion their story was motivated by commercial rivalry."

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