Prime Minister David Cameron offered an “unreserved” apology for employing Andy Coulson at 10 Downing Street, after his former director of communications was found guilty of phone hacking.
In a televised apology, echoed later by Chancellor George Osborne, Mr Cameron said he took “full responsibility” for employing the former News of the World editor and was “profoundly sorry” that assurances he was given about Coulson’s past during his job interview had now turned out to be false.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said that the apology did not go far enough, and that the Prime Minister had “very serious questions to answer” about why he stuck by Coulson long after serious allegations about him had become public.
Mr Cameron had “brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street” and his Government was “tainted” as a result,” said Mr Miliband, who accused the Prime Minister of putting his relationship with press tycoon and News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch ahead of the public interest.
Mr Cameron acknowledged that people would be “concerned” at Coulson having worked for him both as leader of the opposition and Prime Minister, but stressed that there had been no complaints about his work at No10.
The Prime Minister said that both he and chief of staff Ed Llewellyn asked the former tabloid editor whether he knew about phone hacking before he was hired, and were assured that he did not.
In a televised interview in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: “I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson.
“I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turned out not to be the case.
“I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today.
“I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I am very clear about that.”
Pressed over the exact questions which he had put to Coulson when interviewing him for his job, Mr Cameron said: “I asked him questions about whether he knew about phone hacking and he said he didn’t and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job.
“I would say that no-one has made any complaints about the work that he did for me either as leader of the opposition or indeed here in Downing Street.
“But knowing what I now know, and knowing that the assurances were not right, it was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision.”
He added: “Obviously people will be concerned that he worked for me as leader of the opposition, he worked here in Number 10 Downing Street.
“No-one, to my knowledge, has made any complaints about the work that he did in either of those two jobs. This all relates back to what he knew when he was editor of the News of the World.”
But Mr Miliband said: “I think David Cameron has very, very serious questions to answer, because we now know that he brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street.
“David Cameron was warned about Andy Coulson, the evidence mounted up against Andy Coulson. David Cameron must have had his suspicions about Andy Coulson, and yet he refused to act.
“I believe this isn’t just a serious error of judgment. This taints David Cameron’s Government, because we now know that he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ahead of doing the right thing when it came to Andy Coulson.
“This was not some small or accidental mistake. He stuck with Andy Coulson over a long period of time, and it wasn’t like there wasn’t information out there to arouse his suspicions. He was warned by the Deputy Prime Minister. He saw front page stories in newspapers. He was warned by newspaper editors. And yet still he refused to act and even today defended some of the conduct of Andy Coulson when he worked for him.
“I think David Cameron must do much more than an apology. He owes the country an explanation for why he did not act on these allegations against Andy Coulson, why as the evidence piled up he didn’t do anything about.”
Mr Miliband said questions remained about Coulson’s security vetting when he took up the job of director of communications at 10 Downing Street after the 2010 election.
“He doesn’t seem to have received the most comprehensive security vetting and clearance,” said the Labour leader. “We need to know why that didn’t happen.”
Mr Osborne, who initially recommended the former tabloid editor to Mr Cameron as a possible communications chief, just months after he resigned from the News of the World, said: “I too am very sorry for the decision we made to employ Andy Coulson.
“He gave us assurances that turned out not to be the case. We gave him a second chance but, knowing what we now know, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision.
“It’s important for the victims of phone hacking that this has now been properly dealt with by the courts; and it matters for us all that we have a free and vibrant press which operates within the law.”