Cameron insisted during an official trip to Africa, which he is abruptly cutting from four days to two, that Scotland Yard’s failures went deeper. He suggested the Yard was more at fault because it — unlike Downing Street — was actually in charge of investigating the crimes.
Scotland Yard declined to broaden the phone-hacking scandal after making just two arrests in 2006, calling it an isolated incident. While Wallis was working for Scotland Yard, police officials played down allegations in the Guardian newspaper that illicit newsgathering at News of the World was far more widespread.
Cameron, on the other hand, has said he believed Coulson when the former editor told him that he had no knowledge of phone hacking at the paper. Though Cameron has long defended Coulson and described him as a friend, Cameron has more recently called on him to be prosecuted if it is proved that he lied.
“The situation in the Metropolitan Police Service is really quite different to the situation in the government,” Cameron told reporters in South Africa. “Not least because the issues that the Metropolitan Police are looking at, the issues around them, have had a direct bearing on public confidence into the police inquiry.”
Yet the scandal has plunged the normally confident Cameron into his most severe political crisis since winning the prime ministership back for the Conservatives 14 months ago. Skilled in political sparring on the floor of Parliament, the 44-year-old Cameron had thus far managed to keep Miliband, the 41-year-old Labor Party chief, one step behind his coalition government.
With the phone-hacking scandal, however, Miliband has seemed to finally turn the tables.
On Monday, for instance, Miliband chided all sectors of British public life for allowing such cozy relationships between the press, politicians and police not only to exist but also to thrive in plain sight for years.
“What does this say about our country?” he asked. “How did we let this happen?”
Experts, however, pointed out that British prime ministers have faced more serious allegations and managed to survive. And no information has yet emerged, they note, indicating that Cameron is guilty of anything other than poor judgment and, perhaps, naivete. But that, they add, may yet change.
“Cameron was Teflon-coated, smooth, someone who was rather good at the job,” said Tony Travers, a political analyst at the London School of Economics. “But suddenly it’s Miliband with all the credibility, who is one step ahead of David Cameron.”
Special correspondent Eliza Macintosh contributed to this report.