Friday, 10 July 2009

Clarke and Cameron clash over phone hack claims

Norwich MP Charles Clarke took advantage of a visit to the city by David Cameron to challenge the Conservative leader over the role of his party's communications director in alleged phone hacking when he was editor of the News of the World.

Mr Clarke, Norwich South MP, thrust a letter into the hands of Mr Cameron as he stepped out of his car on a visit to Marion Road Day Centre on a visit to support Conservative Norwich North candidate Chloe Smith.

Allegations that telephone calls of politicians and celebrities were hacked by the News of the World have thrown the spotlight on Andy Coulson, previous editor of the tabloid and now Conservative communications director.

David Cameron has defended Mr Coulson, but Mr Clarke's letter calls on him to instruct Mr Coulson to answer a string of questions, including whether he authorised any telephone hacking by his staff when he was editor of the paper or whether he knew agents were being paid to acquire information in that way.

Mr Cameron, who was driven right up to the door of the day centre in Thorpe Hamlet, seemingly in a bid to avoid a public confrontation with Mr Clarke, merely thanked the former Home Secretary for the letter and did not engage him in a debate.

Mr Clarke, who pointed out the visit was actually to a property in his Norwich South constituency, said afterwards: “I wanted to give him the letter and he accepted it courteously.

“He needs to instruct Andy Coulson, as his employee, to offer the answers which I do not think we have had and dismiss Mr Coulson if he cannot give satisfactory answers to those questions.”

But, following his visit to the day centre, Mr Cameron dismissed Mr Clarke's challenge as “a publicity stunt”.

He said: “Labour are desperately trying to deflect attention away from the state of public finances. One thing Charles Clarke and I agree about is that Gordon Brown is not the man to be running this country.

“The key thing with Andy Coulson is that he resigned two-and-a-half years ago because of what happened on his watch. He did the right thing and I think it is reasonable to give him a second chance in a different job, in which he has behaved in the proper way.”

Police have said they would not be mounting a new investigation into new allegations that thousands of public figures had their phones hacked.

The alleged victims are said to have included former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, PR agent Max Clifford, London mayor Boris Johnson and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates said police had seen no additional evidence since its last investigation, which ended with the jailing of News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2007.

Goodman was jailed for four months and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for six months after they were found guilty of phone hacking. The scandal led to the resignation of then News of the World editor Mr Coulson.

News International, which publishes the News of the World, said it was prevented by “confidentiality obligations from discussing certain allegations”.

But, it added: “Since February 2007, News International has continued to work with its journalists and its industry partners to ensure that its journalists fully comply with both the relevant legislation and the rigorous requirements of the Press Complaints Commission's Code of Conduct.

“At the same time, we will not shirk from vigorously defending our right and proper role to expose wrongdoing in the public interest.”

Norwich Evening News 24

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