British Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spokesman was on Wednesday charged with perjury, after denying in court any knowledge of widespread phone hacking by reporters at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.
The charges against Andy Coulson, a former editor of the weekly tabloid, damages Cameron because it calls into question his judgement in employing a man so closely linked to the paper, which is under suspicion of obtaining stories by illegal means.
Scottish police detained Coulson at his home in London early on Wednesday and drove him to Glasgow for hours of questioning before charging him.
Prosecutors said his arrest followed his appearance before the High Court in Glasgow in 2010 over a News of the World story published when he was editor.
Coulson, Cameron’s communications director from 2007 to January last year, told the court he had no knowledge of illegal activities by reporters while he was the paper’s editor. He was arrested in July last year by police investigating phone hacking and bribery at the News of the World.
Perjury can in theory result in a life sentence, but sentences of a couple of years are more typical, a spokesman for the Scottish government justice department said.
“This simply reinforces the questions that are hanging over the prime minister about his judgment in appointing Andy Coulson in the first place,” said Ivor Gaber, professor of political journalism at City University in London.
“We now know that lots of people warned Cameron that this might not be an appropriate move,” he added.
Coulson is the second former editor of the News of the World to be charged with a crime this month, embarrassing Cameron. Rebekah Brooks, a personal friend of the prime minister who became a senior Murdoch executive, was charged on May 15 with interfering with the police investigation into the hacking scandal.
The charges hand valuable political ammunition to Cameron’s opponents, at a time when the close ties between leaders of the current and last governments and Murdoch’s lieutenants are being exposed at an inquiry into collusion between the press, politicians and the police.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has repeatedly attacked Cameron over his ties to Murdoch, has called Coulson’s appointment an appalling error of judgment.
A current spokesman for Cameron and a lawyer for Coulson declined to comment.