David Cameron's director of communications will not be prosecuted over claims he knew of hacking while editor of News of the World, it has been announced
Andy Coulson, the prime minister's director of communications, will not face prosecution over allegations he knew of phone hacking while he was editor of the News of the World, it was announced today. The Crown Prosecution Service announced the decision after spending the last four weeks studying material from a renewed Scotland Yard investigation into the claims.
The Metropolitan police reopened its investigation following revelations by the Guardian about the extent of the practice at the News of the World. Police decided witnesses who claimed Coulson knew more than he admitted about the phone hacking should be interviewed as potential suspects and thus under criminal caution. They in turn refused to comment or gave short statements when detectives questioned them, Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, said today.
Starmer said a panel of prosecutors and police would now be convened to consider any new allegations. One of the most significant new witnesses to come forward was Sean Hoare, a former News of the World reporter. He was quoted in a New York Times investigation as saying Coulson was aware that phone hacking went on. It is believed that Hoare's answers to police were limited because he was interviewed under criminal caution, meaning that he was potentially suspected of committing criminal offences.
In a statement, the DPP said: "Sean Hoare, who made significant allegations in the New York Times and elsewhere, was interviewed by the police but refused to comment. A number of other witnesses were interviewed and either refused to co-operate with the police investigation, provided short statements which did not advance matters or denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.
"Against that background, there is no admissible evidence upon which the CPS could properly advise the police to bring criminal charges. The contents of the reports in the New York Times and the associated reports and coverage are not enough for criminal proceedings unless those making allegations are prepared to provide the police with admissible evidence to support their assertions. None have been prepared to do so."
On 12 November, the Met said it had uncovered new material, not evidence, about phone hacking at the News of the World and had sent a file of evidence to prosecutors to consider if there was a strong enough case to bring charges. Coulson was editor of the News of the World when a reporter and private investigator were convicted and jailed for hacking voice messages involving Princes William and Harry.
A number of journalists have come forward to say the practice was widespread and known about by Coulson, a claim he denies. The CPS would only prosecute if it believed there was a 50% or more chance of getting a conviction. Scotland Yard today released the advice it received from the CPS, saying that on the basis of the material presented by police, this threshold had not been met.
Starmer said: "I do not consider that there is now any evidence that would reach the threshold for prosecution set out in the code for crown prosecutors. In my opinion there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any person identified in the New York Times article. In fact, I consider that the available evidence falls well below that threshold." Scotland Yard said that as a result of the CPS decision, which was expected, its investigation would now "remain closed".
In November detectives interviewed Coulson as part of the inquiry. The Guardian understands he made no admissions of knowledge of the practice during the interview. Coulson voluntarily attended a meeting with detectives at a solicitor's office and was interviewed as a witness. A former deputy features editor at the News of the World, Paul McMullan, has said he believed Coulson was aware of the practice. He was not interviewed by police after saying that if they wished to question him under caution as a suspect, they would have to arrest him.
In October a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary contained further testimony about "widespread" phone hacking at the tabloid. The programme featured an anonymous ex-News of the World journalist who said Coulson listened to recordings of voicemails that had been illegally obtained while editor. Scotland Yard's file sent to the CPS is understood to contain a variety of material including copies of the interviews of the four people questioned under criminal caution, in effect as potential suspects. One of those was Hoare.
Starmer added: "I have made it clear that a robust attitude needs to be taken to any unauthorised interception. But a criminal prosecution can only take place if those making allegations of wrongdoing are prepared to co-operate with a criminal investigation and to provide admissible evidence of the wrongdoing they allege. It is possible that further allegations will be made and the CPS remains willing to consider any evidence submitted to us by the police. To facilitate this, the CPS and the Metropolitan police service intend to convene a panel of police officers and prosecutors to assess those allegations with a view to determining whether or not investigations should take place."
Two House of Commons committees are investigating the hacking allegations and a number of civil actions are still outstanding over the extent of the practice.