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Cameron aide questioned over tabloid phone hacking

Last Updated: Saturday, November 6, 2010 - 22:09

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron`s communications director has been questioned by police over the country`s tabloid phone-hacking scandal, the leader`s office said Saturday.

Andy Coulson, a former editor of the weekly News of The World, was interviewed as a witness on Thursday after police reopened an inquiry into illicit snooping by the country`s infamous popular press.

Police are investigating claims that tabloid newspapers illegally hacked into the cell phones of athletes, models, lawmakers and other high-profile figures to listen to voicemail messages and gather information.

Coulson quit as editor of the newspaper in 2007 after his royal reporter and a private investigator were convicted of hacking phone voicemail messages left for royal officials, including some from Princes William and Harry.

Police began a new inquiry into the issue following allegations made by ex-News of The World reporters that the use of illegal methods was far more widespread than previously established.

Scotland Yard found nearly 3,000 cell phone numbers in an initial inquiry and said hundreds of people were thought to have been targeted by reporters. However, it is likely far fewer had their phones actually broken into.

But critics of the original police investigation claim it failed to establish the scale of the use of illegal methods by British news organizations.

An article published in The New York Times earlier this year quoted former News of The World reporter Sean Hoare as saying that Coulson had been aware of the practice of phone hacking.

Another ex-staff member, Paul McMullan, was quoted by The Guardian as saying he had commissioned private investigators to commit hundreds of illegal acts on the newspaper`s behalf and that Coulson knew.

Opposition Labour Party legislator Chris Bryant told BBC television he hoped the new police inquiry would expose the extent of Coulson`s knowledge of malpractice at his former newspaper.

"It is inconceivable that he as editor would not know what was going on," Bryant said.
Coulson has denied any wrongdoing, and insists he was unaware of the use of illegal practices. The News of the World also denies phone hacking was widespread.

"Andy Coulson voluntarily attended a meeting with Metropolitan Police officers on Thursday morning at a solicitor`s office in London," Cameron`s office said in a statement.
Coulson had offered to meet with police two months ago, Cameron`s office said, and was "interviewed as a witness and was not cautioned or arrested."

Cameron has pledged support to his aide, who was hired shortly after quitting the newspaper. Figures released last week show Coulson earns 140,000 pounds (US$227,000) a year for his work as the leader`s press chief.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, November 6, 2010 - 22:09

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