Under-fire Cameron admits mistake to hire Murdoch

Under-fire Cameron admits mistake to hire Murdoch

British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to admit Wednesday that in hindsight he should not have hired a former editor from the scandal-hit News of the World newspaper as his personal press advisor, dpa reported.

Speaking at an emergency debate in the wake of the appearances by Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks in parliament, Cameron said with "20-20 hindsight" he would not have hired Andy Coulson as his communications chief.

But he insisted Coulson was still "innocent until proven guilty."

Coulson, who was an editor of the now-closed News of the World tabloid during the phone-hacking scandal, was hired by Cameron when he was leader of the opposition and went with him to Downing Street when he became prime minister last year.

Coulson had already resigned first as News of the World editor, and then was forced to resign as Cameron's head of communications in January this year as the phone-hacking row re-erupted.

The opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Cameron of a "catastrophic error of judgement".

At the heart of the phone-hacking scandal are allegations that the News of the World broke in to the voicemails of up to 4,000 people - from royalty and celebrities to murdered children and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan - in order to gain exclusive stories.

Since then, the story has snowballed to claim the scalps of several News International staff, and two of the most senior police officers in Britain over a bungled initial investigation into the phone-hacking.

The scandal has also scuppered News Corp's bid for BSkyB.

Two fresh allegations emerged during the marathon debate - during which Cameron answered 138 questions from lawmakers.

Under tough questioning, Cameron refused to deny he had discussed the Murdoch bid for BSkyB with News International chiefs such as Rebekah Brooks - a close friend of his and neighbour to his Oxfordshire home - saying merely that he never held an "inappropriate conversation" about the matter.

Secondly, a Labour former minister, Nick Raynsford, suggested that a senior government civil servant had been a victim of phone-hacking - while Coulson was working for Cameron. He did not name the official.

In a packed House of Commons, in a special session that postponed the scheduled start of the summer recess, Cameron told lawmakers he was "extremely sorry" for the furore his appointment of Coulson as his communications chief had caused.

He added that if Coulson had lied to him about not knowing about the phone-hacking allegations, Cameron would give parliament a "profound apology."

Cameron said that any such lie would open Coulson up to criminal charges.

"With 20:20 hindsight and all that has followed I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it," Cameron said.

Cameron cut short a trip to Africa to return early to Britain to appear at the special session.

Cameron also announced the membership of a new judge-led panel to look into phone-hacking and media ethics in general. Under Judge Lord Justice Leveson, the panel will report back within 12 months.

On Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and Brooks gave evidence to a select committee of parliament. All denied knowing of the phone-hacking at the time.

Murdoch called the session "the most humble day of my life."

Meanwhile police on Wednesday charged a man accused of attacking Murdoch with a foam pie near the end of the evidence session.

Jonathan May-Bowles was bailed to appear before a magistrates court on Friday, charged with behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress in a public place.

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