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British PM's judgement on line over ex-editor's access

posted 10 May 2012, 10:51 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 10 May 2012, 10:51 ]

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson tells the Leveson Inquiry he had shares in News Corp while working for the British government and that he may have seen top secret state material in his role as media advisor.

LONDON, UK (MAY 10, 2012) (UK POOL) British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a former tabloid newspaper editor whom he hired as his top spokesman access to some of the government's most sensitive secrets while he did not have full security clearance, an inquiry heard on Thursday (May 10).

Andy Coulson, a former editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, told a government-ordered investigation into press standards that Cameron's Conservative Party had asked few questions about his past had not carried out full security checks.

Coulson took up the role as the Conservatives' director of communications, helping steer Cameron's bid to become prime minister, just six months after he stood down as editor of the now-defunct Sunday paper following the jailing of one of his reporters for phone hacking.

Critics say Cameron appointed Coulson in order to secure the backing of the journalist's former boss, Murdoch, and say the appointment showed a lack of judgement.

"Did you have any unsupervised access to information designated top secret or above?" Robert Jay, the lead lawyer for senior judge Brian Leveson, asked Coulson.

"I may have done, yes," he said.

"Did you ever attend meetings of the national security council?" Jay asked about a body of senior politicians, defence and intelligence chiefs which is chaired by the prime minister.

"Yes," Coulson told the public inquiry, which Cameron ordered last year after the phone hacking scandal spiralled out of control, forcing Murdoch to close the News of the World.

A full security clearance procedure includes a review of the applicant's finances and detailed interviews about their past.

Coulson told the hearing on Thursday that he had owned shares in Murdoch's News Corp while he worked for Cameron, an issue he said could raise the potential for a perception of a conflict of interest.

He denied any 'grand conspiracy' between media tycoons and senior politicians but did say that the fallout from the phone hacking scandal was forcing politicians to distance themselves from journalists and media bosses.