Murdoch, Coulson and the deafening roar of hush money


So, Andy Coulson was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by News International after he resigned as editor of News of the World – a fact he decided not to tell the Conservative Party or David Cameron. The reason why is becoming clear.

According to Coulson’s testimony to the DCMS select committee in July 2009 in a response to a question from Tom Watson, he only received ‘what was contractually due’.  There is no way of knowing what was in Coulson’s contract, but he presumably received payment in lieu of notice. That sum, by all accounts, was large. What is strange is that it would appear to have been paid over a prolonged period. Why wasn’t he paid a lump sum? It is definitely not normal practice to keep an ex-employee ‘on the books’ after they have ‘resigned’.

The suspicion is that Coulson was deliberately kept on the books for two reasons. First, to ensure that he stayed stum about the extent of hacking at News of the World. And second, so that Murdoch could use him in the future, should the situation arise.

(The Goodman letter makes clear that despite Coulson’s denial, hacking was openly talked about at editorial meetings chaired by Coulson. Interestingly, Murdoch’s handling of Coulson following his ‘resignation’ is one of the best indicators that he was totally in the picture about the extent of hacking at News of the World very early on. Murdoch will have understood his vulnerability and acted to neutralise Coulson, but to keep him close. Keeping people who might be a threat close, is what he likes to do. Rebekah Brooks is apparently still on the payroll).

After Coulson resigned and Goodman and Mulcaire were in chokey, Murdoch probably believed that the hacking problem had been ‘sorted’. Undeterred, he continued to implement his strategy to optimise his influence over the ruling elite of British politics. It wasn’t long before he got the opportunity to get right inside the party most likely to form the next government – and to use Coulson. With a little help from George Osborne, Coulson was appointed as director of communications of the Conservative party. Murdoch had a ‘placeman’ right where he wanted him. – and someone who it would appear, was still on the payroll.

It’s difficult to believe that David Cameron kept Coulson on as his director of communications after it was clear that the Goodman incident was not a one off. It was put down to his ‘bad judgement’. But to have a Murdoch placeman as his right hand man in the pay of News International is more than bad judgment. Was Cameron being leaned on? What exactly did he know? It’s going to take some explaining.

As Max Clifford (a recipient of a Murdoch out-of-court settlement) pointed out earlier this year, Murdoch was prepared to use money and ‘influence’ to keep the lid on Hackgate. The recipients of both are going to have a rough ride in the coming months.

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