The parliamentary debate — at once highly confrontational, immensely personal and occasionally humorous, in the classic fashion of British politics — began just hours after the release of a committee report that accused Scotland Yard of a “catalogue of failures” in its original investigation into phone hacking.
The report also said News Corp. officials had engaged in “deliberate attempts to thwart investigations,” contradicting testimony by Murdoch and his son James Murdoch on Tuesday in which they said the company responded properly to phone hacking by the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid that affected thousands of British citizens.
On Wednesday, Cameron outlined the independent inquiry that will bring experts from the worlds of media, politics and law together for a far-reaching review of press and police corruption, with public hearings set to start this fall. The experts could recommend broad guidelines to limit cross-ownership of media in Britain and redefine the long-cozy rules of engagement for politicians and the press.
The scandal “has shaken people’s trust in the media and the legality of what they do, in the police and their ability to investigate media malpractice, and, yes, in politics and in politicians’ ability to get to grips with these issues,” Cameron said.
Such questions have swirled around Cameron himself. First and foremost, the prime minister is under fire for hiring Andy Coulson — a former News of the World editor — as his director of communications and keeping him on staff even as allegations against him mounted in the press. Coulson was arrested in connection with the scandal this month.
Blasting Cameron and his staff for repeatedly ignoring warnings about Coulson’s role in the hacking scandal, Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said: “This can’t be put down to gross incompetence. It was a deliberate attempt to hide from the facts.”
Cameron conceded that he had erred in offering Coulson a job. “With 20-20 hindsight, I would not have offered the job,” he said.
Yet Cameron maintained that Coulson should be presumed “innocent until proven guilty,” and he said he would not offer a fuller apology to the nation unless Coulson is convicted. Cameron shot back that Miliband was seeking to distort the facts: “Stop hunting feeble conspiracy theories.”