The New York Times Magazine‘s article about phone hacking at the News of the World comes, it must be said, a little out of the blue. It’s over
a year since the story last exercised printing presses in the UK – and a year, too, since David Cameron’s communications chief, Andy Coulson, was hauled in front of MPs to explain what happened under his editorship of the paper. Back then, he distanced
himself from the dubious methods of some Screws reporters, saying that he was neither aware of, nor complicit in, any phone hacking. And, in the absence of any countervailing evidence, the
process left Coulson with a few light bruises, but no real scars.
But today’s article contains material that could put the heat on Coulson once again. Alex has a great round-up here, including some important allegations about Scotland Yard – but the one which could resonate
most in Westminster is that the former Screws editor knew more than he admitted:
"A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World. ‘Everyone knew,’ one longtime reporter said. ‘The office cat knew.’
One former editor said Coulson talked freely with colleagues about the dark arts, including hacking. ‘I’ve been to dozens if not hundreds of meetings with Andy’ when the subject came
up, said the former editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The editor added that when Coulson would ask where a story came from, editors would reply, ‘We’ve pulled the phone
records’ or ‘I’ve listened to the phone messages.’
Sean Hoare, a former reporter and onetime close friend of Coulson’s, also recalled discussing hacking. The two men first worked together at The Sun, where, Hoare said, he played tape
recordings of hacked messages for Coulson. At News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his pursuits. Coulson ‘actively encouraged me to do it,’ Hoare said."
For his part, Coulson has already denied the allegations. But, whether true or not, they will still cause discomfort for him and the government. It is, after all, never ideal to have a
behind-the-scenes operator dragged onto the news pages – especially when that operator works for No.10.