British prime minister's aide resigns

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; 12:33 PM

LONDON - U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications resigned Friday following ongoing coverage of a phone-hacking scandal at one of Britain's sauciest tabloids.

The aide, Andy Coulson, had edited News of the World, Britain's biggest-selling Sunday newspaper, until 2007 and shortly after was hired by Cameron.

"Unfortunately continued coverage of events connected to my old job at the News of the World has made it difficult for me to give the 110 percent needed in this role," Coulson said in a statement.

The resignation is a blow for Cameron who had repeatedly backed Coulson against calls for his resignation, saying earlier this week that everyone deserved a "second chance."

Coulson, 43, has denied knowledge of illegal activities, but he left the paper saying he took responsibility for what happened on his watch.

"I stand by what I've said about those events, but when the spokesman needs a spokesman it's time to move on," said Coulson, who had worked for Cameron for 31/2 years.

Coulson was "a brilliant member of my team and has thrown himself at the job with skill and dedication," Cameron said.

Rupert Murdoch's News of the World is one of Britain's most raucous tabloids. In early 2007, the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were found guilty of intercepting phone messages from Prince William, among others.

Although Coulson has always maintained he was unaware of phone hacking under his editorship, the story refused to die with a series of fresh allegations. Earlier this month, the paper suspended a senior editor who was named in a lawsuit by actress Sienna Miller, who says her phone was hacked.

"It was always going to be when, rather than if," said Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS, a media thinktank at the London School of Economics. "I don't know anybody in Britain who didn't think Andy Coulson must have known more about this than has come out."

The news came on a dramatic day for British politics: Just down the road from Downing Street, former prime minister Tony Blair testified before a panel probing the run up, invasion and aftermath of Britain's role in the Iraq war.

Characteristically confident, Blair was pressed for nearly five hours on the "gaps" between his previous testimony a year ago and that of other witnesses and official documents.

Much of the questioning centered on written evidence published this week by Peter Goldsmith, Blair's top legal officer, who said he felt left out of key meetings and was "uncomfortable" about the statements Blair had made to Parliament that Britain did not need explicit backing from the United Nations to authorize the invasion.

The Iraq War Inquiry, which was set up to focus on lessons learned rather than apportion blame, is expected to publish its recommendations by the end of the year.

The mood inside the hearing was subdued until Blair said that he did not regret sending troops in to Iraq but did regret the loss of life.

"Too late," a member in the audience said.

Meanwhile, the opposition Labor party was reeling from the resignation of Alan Johnson, one of the party's most senior politicians.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company