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Gus O’Donnell: I was not involved in Coulson’s appointment

25 June 2014

25 June 2014

David Cameron’s claim at PMQs that Gus O’Donnell had been asked at Leveson about whether he had offered any warnings on the hiring of Andy Coulson, was met with bafflement. But O’Donnell’s written submission does address this point.

Question 30 – Please set out in full for the inquiry details of your role, if any, in relation to the appointment by the Prime Minster of Andy Coulson to a post in No.10. Your account should include a full explanation of the basis on which you were asked to advise.

Mr Coulson was brought in as a special adviser to the Prime Minister. I was not involved in the process of appointing Mr Coulson. Mr Coulson was cleared to SC (security clearance) level and was undergoing DV (developed vetting) clearance at the time of his resignation.

Now, this does not prove that O’Donnell didn’t privately suggest that hiring Coulson was a bad idea. But it does show that O’Donnell, who had retired as Cabinet Secretary by this point, did not have anything that he wanted to get off his chest about the matter. If warnings he had given on the matter had been ridden roughshod over, you would expect him to mention that in answer to this question. Indeed, O’Donnell’s declaration that he was ‘not involved in the process of appointing Mr Coulson’ suggests that there were no detailed conversations between Cameron and O’Donnell on this points.


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  • The Masked Marvel

    “A clarification is not to make oneself clear. It is to put oneself in the clear.”

    “Consciences are for politicians. It is dangerous for Civil Servants to acquire a taste for such luxuries.”

    “The skill of advising ministers is to do so in such a way that they do not realize you are advising them, or if they do realize it, cannot prove that you were when the advice turns out to be bad.”

    -Sir Humphry Appleby

  • sarah_13

    It’s all irrelevant. A man lied up to and beyond criminal charges. Is Cameron supposed to be able to prejudge criminal proceedings. Nothing he or anyone else could have done would have found this out short of a criminal process which cost £100 million. The whole thing is a pointless distraction. The man resigned. Far worse people have been let loose in downing street and most by the labour party.

  • realfish

    It is conceivable that, unlike Alastair Campbell, Cameron did not require DV Vetting for Coulson. There would be no requirement for Coulson to sit with the security services, creating dodgy dossiers and misleading Parliament.

    • Kitty MLB

      Correct .Is it inconceivable that Alistair Campbell stopped the full security
      clearance, by the civil service as he didn’t want Cameron’s chief spin doctor
      to be given access to sensitive government information.
      Labour were the government at that time, were they not. I know they were
      very busy toadying up to Murdoch at the time.

      • Mynydd

        Mr Coulson did not require any security clearance while he was working for, and paid by, the Conservative Party. He only required full security clearance when he moved into No10 as Director of Communications. Conservative/Lib Dem were the government at that time, were they not, or were they very busy with the Rose Garden love in. With respect to Alistair Campbell, it was not possible for him to stop the full security clearance of Mr Coulson, as your Mr Cameron said security clearance is down to the Cabinet Sec.

      • ButcombeMan

        Kitty my dear, you are way off beam.

        The DV process could only apply when Coulson became a public servant, direct or indirect NOT when he was just advising an opposition Leader.

        Campbell had gone by then. Mynydd has it right.

      • Peter Stroud

        Surely the whole business of Coulson, and Developed Vetting, is explained by GOD in the article, above. The process was underway when Coulson resigned. If it is like the old PVC process it could take months.

    • Jambo25

      As a young, junior civil servant, some 40 years ago, I was subjected to ‘positive vetting’ as it was then termed. Coulson was operating, in 10 Downing Street, at the very heart of government.To believe that someone in Coulson’s position would not have normally been subjected to the most stringent level of security clearance simply beggars belief. Why was the DV process not carried out when Coulson became Number 10’s Director of Communications? Did Cameron already know there was something in Coulson’s past that he did not want to officially ‘know’?

      • P_S_W

        I refer the right honourable member to:

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28014035

        The BBC’s Robert Peston on the vetting question

        I know the answer to why Coulson was not given top level security vetting in 2010.

        What happened was that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had decided that too many special advisers had access to the highest level of security clearance and wanted to reduce their number.

        So he made a policy decision, without pressure from David Cameron, not to get Coulson cleared for access to such material. At the same time, Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn was given the most vigorous degree of vetting, because of his foreign policy role.

        Sir Jeremy simply felt it was inappropriate for large numbers of SPADs – as special advisers are known at Westminster – to have access to this material.

        He subsequently decided Coulson was a good egg and could have access to this top secret sensitive material, even though he had not been cleared. So if anyone is going to be embarrassed by the failure to vet Coulson, and Labour’s investigation into this, it will be Britain’s top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood.

  • swatnan

    Everyone makes mistakes; you take peoples words on trust?
    Trouble is warnings came from Cleggy and Mili way beforehand, and were ignored.
    Funny that Dave is hiding behoind Leveson when he’s ditched the Report and gone for a Royal Charter nonsense. About time Leveson spoke out and defended his Report.
    The Press are f course to blame, and share collectiveresponsibility.

    • HookesLaw

      You are saying that Clegg and Miliband did not want Cameron to appoint an effective special advisor? Well there is a surprise.

      • Kitty MLB

        Indeed and he was extremely effective and liked by all parties.
        I am sure rumours and innuendo is forever flying around Westminster,
        if Labour or others had any proof they should have gone to the police,
        but honestly with their track record.
        Cameron is a decent man, can anyone say the same about his opposition. A bunch of devious vultures and nothing more.

    • Tony_E

      Would you buy a warning from Clegg or Miliband? On receipt of such a warning I would assume that they were simply frit, because they thought that Coulson’s ability would damage them rather than the PM.

      • realfish

        Don’t forget Prescott’s warning!

        • P_S_W

          Yes, because everyone listens to John Prescott.

      • Jambo25

        The warnings were coming from other areas as well as Clegg and Miliband. Journals such as Private Eye, the Guardian and New York Times were printing fairly lurid stories about Coulson and his milieu from a fairly early stage and not just in relation to phone hacking and tapping. Cameron ignored all the warnings.
        Incidentally, why is nobody looking at Osborne’s role in the resistible rise of Coulson? I suspect that there is a very interesting back story there for any group of hacks who care to follow it up.

  • DianeHain

    Ahh of course I believe everything that Cameron said and Gus O’Donnell too like the mug I am lol. Truthfully, though, do you really believe that Gus O’Donnell would soil himself getting involved with Cameron’s dodgy defence? Then you don’t deserve to be a journalist making such assumptions to fit in with your world view.

    • P_S_W

      As above:

      I know the answer to why Coulson was not given top level security vetting in 2010.

      What happened was that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had decided that too many special advisers had access to the highest level of security clearance and wanted to reduce their number.

      So he made a policy decision, without pressure from David Cameron, not to get Coulson cleared for access to such material. At the same time, Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn was given the most vigorous degree of vetting, because of his foreign policy role.

      Sir Jeremy simply felt it was inappropriate for large numbers of SPADs – as special advisers are known at Westminster – to have access to this material.

      He subsequently decided Coulson was a good egg and could have access to this top secret sensitive material, even though he had not been cleared. So if anyone is going to be embarrassed by the failure to vet Coulson, and Labour’s investigation into this, it will be Britain’s top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood.

      • Jambo25

        I did post a longish reply to this last night but the powers that be seem to have deleted it for some reason. The reality is that Coulson wasn’t some junior departmental SPAD. He was No. 10’s Director of Communications and would, therefore, be operating at the highest level possible. He was also someone brought into the No. 10 fold at the express demand of Cameron. Cameron was, in effect, his direct employer. He was the man of Cameron and Osborne. If Heywood didn’t wish to DV vet him then Cameron ought to have insisted that Heywood pulled his finger out and do it, particularly since the stories about Coulson’s activities were already out in the open. One has to ask why Cameron didn’t insist on DV vetting under the circumstances? Did Cameron suspect that there was something there in Coulson’s background that he (Cameron) didn’t want to find out?

        • P_S_W

          Maybe, just maybe, he deferred to the judgement of the senior civil servant in the land.

          • Jambo25

            Not at that level. If you’re sitting in on cabinet and running No 10’s communications then you are seeing information of the highest security clearance every day. Moreover the stories about Coulson were already appearing in various journals and warnings were coming in from individuals and groups about what was going on at the News of the World. It is simply beyond belief that Coulson was not DV vetted and at the end of the day the buck stopped with Cameron.

            • P_S_W

              As you and I are not at that level of power or responsibility, neither of us know that for certain.

              • Jambo25

                Put it this way not to have been DV vetted would have made Coulson unique over the last 20-30 years. The man around him were more rumours flying than anyone else in that position wasn’t vetted. Sorry, just don’t believe that.

        • ButcombeMan

          I agree with you.

          I am extremely suspicious of the absence of vettting for this post

          Peston information most likely to be a planted story. Muddying pools etc

          • Jambo25

            I entirely agree. I was out for my usual Thursday night drinks with my friends, yesterday evening. One of said friends is a rather senior civil servant with the Scottish Government and when the Coulson story was brought up he simply burst out laughing that anybody would believe Cameron’s excuse. His actual words were, “Their heads must zip up the back to believe that.”

      • DianeHain

        Well, I’ve heard it all now. What a pathetic concoction of excuses, wonder how long it took you to make that one us, with the aid of No. 10, of course. You, David Cameron and all, must think we’re barking if you believe we would be taken in by that load of tosh!

      • ButcombeMan

        It is high time Heywood went.

        Was it not him who messed up the Plebgate enquiry?.

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