Saturday News Review

More damning evidence on Coulson and Cameron

In written evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which is investigating allegations of widespread hacking by the Sunday tabloid, Paul McMullan, a former features editor, said that the practice was widespread and “easy”. He insisted that Mr Coulson, who finally left No. 10 on Tuesday and denies knowledge of any phone tapping during his time as editor of the paper, knew that “a lot of people did it” at both the News of the World and its sister paper, The Sun. “The real scandal is [David] Cameron would have been briefed ‘We can probably get away with this one,’ when hiring Coulson, so Mr Cameron is either a liar or an idiot,” he went on. Mr McMullan, who has left journalism and now runs a pub in Dover, Kent, also claimed that employees of the mobile phone company Vodafone, “people at the tax office” and doctors’ receptionists would telephone reporters offering to “sell numbers and codes of stars’ phones”. Admitting that he himself frequently hacked into phones, he claimed that Mr Coulson would have been aware of what he and others were doing. – Daily Telegraph

Andy Coulson was aware that phone hacking was taking place at Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire and “told others to do it”, a former executive at the News of the World told MPs. In written evidence given to the home affairs select committee and published for the first time today, Paul McMullan, a former features executive and investigative journalist at the title, said former editor Coulson “knew a lot of people” used the technique when Coulson worked at sister paper the Sun. He joined the News of the World in 2003, where he worked alongside McMullan for 18 months. McMullan said: “As he sat a few feet from me in the [News of the World] newsroom he probably heard me doing it, laughing about it … and told others to do it”. McMullan told the Guardian last year that Coulson must have been well aware the practice was “pretty widespread”. Coulson has continued to deny this. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, also confirmed in written evidence to MPs he has instructed the Crown Prosecution Service to adopt a far broader definition of what constitutes illegal phone hacking. This decision makes fresh prosecutions more likely. The CPS announced a new investigation into phone hacking last month. News International says McMullan’s evidence is unreliable and will demand evidence is withdrawn or corrected. The home affairs committee will publish its report into unauthorised phone hacking in the spring. David Cameron was, meanwhile, accused tonight of “breathtaking arrogance” for refusing to answer questions about his links to Murdoch’s media empire, which owns the Sun and News of the World. – the Guardian

Sorry Sally

A Government minister yesterday told the publicity-mad Speaker’s wife “to shut up and cover up” after she posed in just a bedsheet in an interview on her sex life. Children’s Minister Tim Loughton hit out as Sally Bercow defended the controversial snap. Mrs Bercow, 41, admitted she was “a fool” to pose but insisted the snap was tasteful. Sally, whose outbursts have built her a profile to rival hubby John, 48, added: “I’m a personality, I’ve got ambitions.”Responding to Mr Loughton’s tweet, she wrote on Twitter: “I always pass on good advice. It’s never of use to oneself.” Earlier, she told BBC Radio 5 Live her husband was “not exactly thrilled” about her interview with a London paper. But she dismissed critics who said her actions belittle the dignity of his Commons role. She said: “Should I be a wife who walks dutifully three paces behind my husband, keeps her mouth shut and makes cucumber sandwiches? It was a bit of fun, but it backfired.” – the Sun

Sally Bercow, the wife of the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, today admitted a newspaper photo of her wearing a bedsheet had made her look a “complete idiot” and that her attempt at a bit of harmless fun had “completely backfired”. But despite her apparent contrition, Bercow insisted the revealing photo was “tasteful” and that she found the situation quite funny. She attracted criticism for a photoshoot, in which she stood by a hotel window, clad in a white sheet with the House of Commons in the background. The photo was taken to accompany an Evening Standard interview, due to be published today, in which she described the aphrodisiac effect on the couple’s life at the Palace of Westminster. She told the paper’s magazine section that she found living in a grace-and-favour apartment in the building “sexy”, and that both she and her husband had been “hit on” more since he was elevated from a Tory backbencher to the Speaker’s role in June 2009. Today, Bercow went on Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC Radio 5 Live show and admitted she was “probably stupid” to do the interview and had been a “fool” to agree to be photographed in the sheet as part of the newspaper’s Valentine’s Day coverage. – the Guardian

Not there yet on the AV Bill

Labour’s Lord Falconer has said there is still “work to do” if a bill setting up a referendum on the Westminster voting system is to get through.It follows a marathon 15-day debate on one stage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. A compromise was reached to end it but the bill returns to the Lords next week. It must be law by 16 February if a referendum is to be held on 5 May. Lord Falconer told the BBC’s Record Review: “There isn’t a deal yet.” The shadow justice minister said agreement had been reached on “certain aspects” of the bill – but added: “There is still work to do.” – the BBC

Campbell stands up for Scottish school

He was renowned for piping up for the New Labour cause. But now Alastair Campbell, the bagpipe-playing former spin doctor to Tony Blair, has become the latest high-profile figure to join the growing chorus of condemnation against the threatened closure of a traditional school of music in the Highlands. The National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School is facing the axe following the announcement that Highland Council plans to withdraw its funding of £317,000 for the facility as part of a package of spending cuts. The centre opened in 2000 after receiving £650,000 from the Scottish Executive and has produced many award-winning musicians over the last decade. Mr Campbell said yesterday that he had been made aware of the threat facing the school by a friend and had been highlighting its plight on his Twitter and Facebook pages. The former director of communications at Downing Street, whose father is a Scot, said: “I wanted to support this because I think it is important. It looks to me like an easy target in a way. “And it’s one of those things that, unless enough people raise their voices in support of it, it could just go without a fight and I think that would be wrong.” – the Scotsman

Every little (vote) counts

Labour surged from bottom of the poll to the top when it snatched a surprise council by-election breakthrough. Candidate Brian Oosthuysen won Gloucestershire’s Rodborough division by a margin of three over the Tories, with a votes share surge of nearly 20% for the party since the last county contests in 2009. This is particularly encouraging for Labour’s chiefs since it trailed a poor fourth last time. Rodborough is part of marginal Stroud constituency, lost to the Tories at the General Election. – the Independent

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