The truth about Cameron’s Svengali

Excellent Observer piece by Peter Oborne about Dave’s key apparatchik, Andy Coulson, the former editor of the Screws of the World.

First, there is no question at all that the News of the World routinely used private investigators during the seven years that Coulson was running the paper. Though much of what they did was legal, some was not. One of these investigators, Steve Whittamore, ran a network of specialists who concentrated on “blagging”, or tricking information out of confidential databases run by banks, credit card and phone companies, Revenue and Customs, the police national computer and other sources. Whittamore, who provided intelligence for other Fleet Street titles as well, was convicted in 2005 of offences committed under the Data Protection Act.

Mulcaire was an expert in intercepting voicemail messages. However, Mulcaire, who was on a full-time contract worth £100,000 a year until his arrest in August 2006, was also a skilful blagger. In all, four investigators who worked for Coulson’s News of the World have been convicted of criminal offences. One of them, whose name cannot be revealed for legal reasons, was actually re-employed by the News of the World after serving his prison sentence. This happened in 2005, while Coulson was still editor.

It is no exaggeration to state that under the editorship of Coulson the News of the World was running what was effectively a large private intelligence service, using some of the same highly intrusive techniques as MI5. This illegal surveillance was targeted at the most famous and most powerful men and women in Britain, including footballers, politicians, members of the government, police and military. The budget stretched to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, probably more. As deputy editor, and then editor, Coulson was routinely commissioning and editing stories to which these investigators had contributed vital information.

Yet when Coulson gave evidence to MPs last year, he insisted that throughout the time he was editor he had been wholly unaware of any of this, with the exception of the “very unfortunate rogue case” of Clive Goodman.

By these standards, Alastair Campbell was pretty clean.