Prime Minister David Cameron was on Wednesday forced to admit he made a mistake in appointing Andy Coulson, a former News of the World (NoW) Editor, as his communications chief as he cut short a visit to Africa to make an “emergency” statement in the House of Commons following new claims about his relationship with the Murdochs.
Mr. Cameron was accused of making a “catastrophic error of judgment” for hiring Mr. Coulson, who left NoW after one of his reporters was jailed for phone hacking in 2007.
Mr. Coulson was arrested a few days ago in connection with police investigations into hacking.
Amid noisy scenes, the Prime Minister said he regretted his decision and would offer a fuller and more “profound apology” if it turned out Mr. Coulson lied to him when he claimed he had no knowledge of hacking under his watch.
“Of course I regret, and I am extremely sorry, about the furore it has caused,” he said adding that with hindsight, “I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it”.
Mr. Cameron told MPs he decided to give Mr. Coulson a “second chance” on the basis of specific assurances from him that he had not been involved in any wrongdoing.
“If it turns out I have been lied to that would be a moment for a profound apology, and in that event I can tell you I will not fall short,” he said.
Opposition MPs dismissed his belated expression of regret as being “not good enough” pointing out that in the past repeated questions about Mr. Coulson had been met “with a wall of silence”. Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of trying “to hide from the facts”.
“The country has the right to expect that the Prime Minister would have made every effort to know the facts about Mr. Coulson, to protect himself and his office. This can't be put down to gross ignorance. It was a deliberate attempt to hide from the facts on Mr. Coulson,” he said.
Mr. Cameron also came under pressure over claims that he had conversations with people from Rupert Murdoch's media group News International about his now-aborted bid for BSkyB. He was asked whether he met Mr. Murdoch; his son James, head of News International; and its former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.
“I never had any inappropriate conversations,” he said accusing Labour of inventing a “litany of rather pathetic conspiracy theories to try and win a political game”.