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23 July 2011

Coulson’s troubles grow

A new criminal investigation is launched into whether Coulson committed perjury at the Sheridan tria

By George Eaton

Earlier this month I speculated that Andy Coulson could eventually be charged with perjury. During Tommy Sheridan’s trial last December, Coulson was memorably asked by Sheridan (who acted as his own counsel): “did the News of the World pay corrupt police officers?” He replied: “Not to my knowledge.”

But since then, News International has passed emails to Scotland Yard allegedly showing that Coulson authorised payments to police officers in return for help with stories. Then there’s the fact, as I’ve previously noted, that he admitted to the media select committee in 2003 that payments had been made, although he insisted they were “within the law”.

Whatever the truth, Cameron’s former director of communications is now under investigation by Strathclyde police for allegedly committing perjury. As well as denying that he had any knowledge of payments to the police, Coulson also told the court that he was unaware of illegal phone hacking by reporters.

Strathclyde police’s assistant chief constable, George Hamilton, said: “Following our discussions with the crown, we have now been instructed to carry out a full investigation into allegations that witnesses gave perjured evidence in the trial of Tommy Sheridan and into alleged breaches of data protection and phone hacking.

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“We will also be looking to see if we can uncover any evidence of corruption in the police service or any other organisation related to these inquiries.

Coulson is already the subject of two separate criminal investigations into allegations that he knew of phone hacking while editor of the NoW and that he authorised bribes to police officers. In his Commons statement earlier this week, Cameron alluded the possibility that Coulson could be charged with perjury.

He told the House: “I have said very clearly that if it turns out Andy Coulson knew about the hacking at the News of the World, he will not only have lied to me but he will have lied to the police, to a select committee, to the Press Complaints Commission and, of course, perjured himself in a court of law.” Coulson was still working for Cameron when he appeared at the Sheridan trial.

Incidentally, Charles Moore’s thoughtful and self-critical column in today’s Telegraph (“I’m starting to think that the Left might actually be right”) offers an important corrective to those who mourned the death of the “world’s greatest investigative newspaper”. Of the News of the World, he writes: “In its stupidity, narrowness and cruelty, and in its methods, the paper was a disgrace to the free press.”