21 Jul 2011

British PM regrets 'furore' over hiring tabloid editor

10:24 pm on 21 July 2011

British Prime Minister David Cameron has defended his integrity in an emergency debate in parliament, saying he regrets the uproar caused by his hiring of a former newspaper editor at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal.

Mr Cameron returned early from a trip to Africa to address Parliament, which has been recalled from recess, on the crisis.

He says in hindsight he would not have hired the former editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, Andy Coulson, as his media spokesperson, but said decisions are not made in hindsight.

Mr Coulson left the Prime Minister's office in January, just before police reopened an investigation in which Mr Coulson and his predecessor as editor, Rebekah Brooks, have been arrested and bailed.

In hours of stormy questioning on Wednesday Mr Cameron stopped short of bowing to demands that he apologise outright for what Labour leader Ed Miliband called a "catastrophic error of judgment" in appointing Mr Coulson.

"Of course I regret and I am extremely sorry about the furore it has caused. With 20:20 hindsight ... I would not have offered him the job," Mr Cameron said.

Only if Mr Coulson should turn out to have lied about not knowing of illegal practices at his newspaper would the prime minister offer a "profound apology".

Mr Cameron defended his actions and those of his staff in dealings with Murdoch's News Corp global media empire and with two senior police chiefs who resigned this week over the affair.

Opposition members of parliament questioned the credibility of Mr Cameron's defence that Coulson had assured him when being hired in 2007 that, as editor of the News of the World, he knew nothing of the hacking of voicemails which led to the paper's royal correspondent and an investigator being jailed.