How Tom Watson plans to put heat back on Andy Coulson

Labour MP wants to know who paid for Sheridan trial appearance.

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David Cameron's spin-doctor-in-chief, Andy Coulson, must have thought he'd put a difficult year behind him when the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, decided this week that there was "insufficient evidence" to pursue charges relating to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

But Coulson did not reckon with the tenacious Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East

Watson has fired off a letter to Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the civil service, in an effort to establish who exactly paid Coulson's legal fees during his appearance at the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial. Here, in full, is what O'Donnell will have waiting in his in tray tomorrow morning:

 

Sir Gus O'Donnell

Head of the Home Civil Service

Cabinet Office

70 Whitehall

London

SW1A 2AS

December 2010

 

REPORTING OF GIFTS FOR SPECIAL ADVISERS

I understand that whilst giving evidence under oath at the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial on Thursday 9th December, the Prime Minister's Communications Director, Mr Andy Coulson, appeared to state that media organisation News International was paying his legal fees.

Paying legal fees amounts to a gift. Please confirm that the gift has been registered in line with the Cabinet Office's reporting guidelines. Please also tell me the date on which Mr Coulson registered this payment as a gift.

The Committee of Standards in Public Life in Annex B of its Seven Principles states: "Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties".

Given Mr Coulson's role, it seems inconceivable that this principle will not be breached with the payment of legal fees by News International.

In the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, rewritten we are told by the Prime Minister himself, in June 2010, it also states: "[Special Advisers] should not receive benefits of any kind which others might reasonably see as compromising their judgement or integrity".

I would like your view on whether the payment represents a breach of the Civil Service Code or Principles of Standards in Public Life. I am sure many reasonable minded people would see the payment as compromising Mr Coulson.

I think it is also important that you clarify precisely what nature of financial support Mr Coulson has received, or expects to receive, from News International to help cover his legal fees.

Thank you in advance for your help with this matter. I look forward to your response as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely

Tom Watson
Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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