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NotW bosses fight back over hacking claims

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Tory communications boss Andy Coulson has assured MPs that he played no part in either condoning or facilitating phone hacking while editor of the News of the World.

Coulson quit as NoTW editor in 2007 after the paper's royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator accomplice, Glen Mulcaire, were jailed for hacking into the voicemail inboxes of Royal aides. Coulson told the Commons' Culture and Media Committee of MPs on Tuesday that he resigned even though he didn't know about Goodman's illegal action, because as editor he bore "ultimate responsibility" for what his staff did.

"My instructions to the staff were clear - we did not use subterfuge of any kind unless there was a clear public interest in doing so," Coulson said. "They were to work within the PCC [Press Complaints Commission] code at all times."

He said he gave reporters freedom and resources to do their job and that he didn't micro-manage stories. Coulson further stated he never met Mulcaire and that payments made to the disgraced private eye, although large, didn't stand out as exceptional.

The Goodman mobile phone hacking scandal was reopened late last month after The Guardian reported that News International made payouts of £1m after getting sued by Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association, and two others, since identified as PFA lawyers. The Guardian further alleged in a series of articles that 3,000 celebrities and sportspeople had their phones hacked, and that many journalists used private eyes to hunt for gossip by obtaining illegal access to driving records, police and tax databases.

Coulson denied knowing anything about either the paper's botched investigation into Taylor or the subsequent privacy breach settlement, which it emerged on Tuesday was approved by James Murdoch, News International's executive chairman. Proceedings took an odd turn when the former editor turned Tory spindoctor claimed that police warned his own mobile phone might have been hacked into earlier this month. Coulson told MPs there was more evidence that he'd been the victim of phone hacking than former deputy prime minster John Prescott, who complained loudly about alleged invasion of his privacy by NotW reporters when the story re-emerged earlier this month.

The Guardian produced copies of a contract between the NotW and private investigator Glen Mulcaire, as well as copies of emails containing transcripts of hacked voicemails when its journalists appeared before MPs last week.

However, current News of the World editor Colin Myler maintained there was no evidence of "systematic illegality" at the paper, sticking to the company line that Goodman was a rogue reporter acting illegally without the knowledge of management at Wapping. Myler said new safeguards had been established since the Goodman case to prevent further illegality.

"These [safeguards] include the introduction of strict protocols on cash payments, and on the level of justification, authorisation and auditing of cash payments," Myler said, the BBC reports. "Since I took over as editor, cash payments for stories and tip-offs have been reduced by between 82 per cent and 89 per cent," he added.

During a combative committee session, News International lawyer Tom Crone questioned whether Labour MP Tom Watson ought to be permitted to ask questions.

Watson is suing The Sun, which like the NotW is published by News International, for alleged libel. Committee chairman, Tory MP John Whittingdale, said he'd taken legal advise from the Speaker's office which cleared Watson's attendance.

News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner called foul on the presence of Tory MP Philip Davies on the committee over commentary he was made to the media on the case, arguing he'd pre-judged matters. Whittingdale said the Commons committee wasn't a court of law, where stricter rules on alleged bias apply, in allowing his colleague Davies to remain at the hearing.

Live updates from the hearing can be found in a Guardian story here. ®

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