Former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson today said he did not believe in a “grand conspiracy” between News Corp‘s UK press arm, News International, and the UK’s Conservative Party. Coulson, who left the tabloid in 2007 and ultimately became Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief, was giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics. He also dismissed rumors that he had kept a detailed diary during his stint working for Cameron. But, it was revealed that he may have had access to government secrets that his security clearance did not cover. It’s also understood that the Conservatives did only perfunctory background checks on Coulson before he was hired. Those revelations come as the inquiry has recently begun to emphasize its focus on the relationship between Rupert Murdoch‘s camp and UK politicians. But rather than further tarnish the Murdoch name in Britain, the inquiry has lately had the effect of shifting attention from the Murdochs to Downing Street. The issue heated up with last month’s revelations of communications between Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s office and that of James Murdoch during the BSkyB bid process that News Corp eventually aborted. Cameron since has been under pressure to launch an inquiry into Hunt’s ministerial conduct, something he has been reluctant to do.
Coulson told the inquiry today that he didn’t think he was “pushed or encouraged or told” to support any particular political party when he was still News Of The World editor. Counsel Robert Jay pressed the idea that Coulson was hired by the Conservative Party given his close ties to Murdoch and to Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News International. But Coulson said he didn’t believe Brooks had any influence over his hiring by the party. He further said he told Cameron his experience at News Of The World could not guarantee the support of the tabloid or its sister paper The Sun. In a lighter moment Coulson, Jay and Lord Justice Brian Leveson got into a back-and-forth about the rules at Downing Street, Cameron’s residence, regarding who goes in the front door and who goes in the back door. “I have to keep myself entertained, Mr Coulson,” Leveson said. Coulson was arrested last July as part of the investigations surrounding phone hacking and illegal payments to police officers at News International newspapers. He has not been charged. Rebekah Brooks testifies tomorrow.