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23 August 2011

Did Brooks mislead parliament over payments to Coulson?

Rebekah Brooks said it was "incorrect" to claim that News International subsidised Coulson's wages a

By George Eaton

To New Statesman readers, reports that Andy Coulson received several hundred thousand pounds from News International after he was hired by David Cameron should come as no surprise. In July, Kevin Maguire wrote in the NS:

The things you hear muttered in parliament . . . Could News International really have subsidised Andy Coulson’s wages while he worked for David Cameron? I’d dismiss it out of hand but, then again, I’d never have believed that people would delete Milly Dowler’s voicemail so more messages could be eavesdropped.

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The story was picked up by Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders, who interrogated James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks on the subject during last month’s select committee hearings. While Murdoch merely said he had “no knowledge” of Coulson’s wages after he left News International, Brooks went further and declared that the claim was “incorrect”.

Here’s the exchange with Murdoch:

Q268 Mr Sanders: The New Statesman carried a story last week that News International subsidised Andy Coulson’s wages after he left your employ. Can you shed any light on that?

James Murdoch: I have no knowledge of Andy Coulson’s wages after he left the company’s employment.

And here’s the exchange with Brooks:

Q574 Mr Sanders: Did you approve the subsidising of Andy Coulson’s salary after he left News of the World?

Rebekah Brooks: Again, that’s not true, so I didn’t approve it.

Q575 Mr Sanders: So the New Statesman report, like the Daily Mail report, is inaccurate? His salary is not being subsidised by News International.

Rebekah Brooks: That is correct. They are incorrect.

Both should now be recalled to explain their answers. If the Coulson reports are true, Brooks may stand accused of misleading Parliament. Much, one suspects, will hinge on the definition of “subsidising”. But it’s worth noting, as Tom Watson has, that Coulson told the select committee in 2009 that he didn’t receive a penny from News International after he started working for the Conservatives.