- The Guardian, Thursday 9 July 2009
John Prescott last night called on David Cameron, the Tory leader, to axe his party's director of communications Andy Coulson after the Guardian revealed fresh details about phone-hacking by the News of the World, the tabloid paper the spin doctor used to edit.
Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, said he had no idea his phone was targeted in the spring of 2006, and demanded an explanation from police about why no action appeared to have been taken.
"The timing is interesting. Spring, 2006, that was when there was this bloody business of an affair," he said, referring to his relationship with his secretary Tracey Temple. "All the women in my office were phoned by the press, and they all had their private mobile numbers. My office was absolutely shocked as to how the press got every one of their private numbers. They were all being asked questions about me. It was all connected to that. The whole thing is deplorable."
He added: "I must say after all the fuss about [Damian] McBride, I think Mr Cameron should be thinking of getting rid of Coulson. McBride was bad enough as it was, now really, just ask Mr Cameron whether he's got the courage to get rid of Coulson, or, certainly to make sure if he was to come in to No 10 he didn't have access to privileged information. To my mind, it is unacceptable that this man goes into the Tory party office. The Murdoch press called for the sacking of McBride, and I actually agreed with it. But I wonder if we will hear them demand Cameron get rid of Coulson."
Prescott said he would ask the police if they were "aware that I'd been phone hacked, and why did they not take action? And why was I not informed so that I knew what was going on. So I shall be writing to the police and asking if is this true, and what actions did you take?
"I am bound to say, they didn't take any action over McBride, or any action over the … material given to the Telegraph. They are very political over who they chose to take action over".
Former Cabinet minister Geoff Hoon, also weighed in on the issue, concurring with Prescott's views.
"It is hard to see how in these circumstances Andy Coulson can continue as David Cameron's communications chief while such a cloud hangs over his reputation.
"David Cameron must make clear what action he intends to take on this matter."
A spokeswoman for David Cameron said last night that the Tory leader was "very relaxed about the story".
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne also drew parallels with the Damian McBride case.
"At the very least Andy Coulson was responsible for a newspaper that was out of control and at worst he was personally implicated," he said.
"Either way, a future prime minister cannot have someone who is involved in these sort of underhand tactics. The exact parallel is with Damian McBride.
"If it is more than a thousand (phone taps) it seems most unlikely to me to have been just one journalist. There needs to be a full investigation."
Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem energy spokesman whose mobile phone messages were hacked into in 2006, said yesterday the court settlement by News Group Newspapers was proof the illegal practice is "always corporate responsibility as well as individual responsibility".
He said he had been left feeling "angry and frustrated" by the intrusion into his personal affairs which came shortly after he had outed himself as a homosexual. "The settlement suggests the company clearly accepts, informally, responsibility for the actions," he said.
Hughes said he planned to consult his lawyer over what action he may take. He also warned the £400,000 damages settlement to Gordon Taylor could leave News Group open to more civil actions by individuals who may have become victims of intrusions into their personal data.
"There is a question as to whether this newspaper group or any other newspaper group is liable to other actions," he said. "The lesson is that they shouldn't presume that this is something that will only be dealt with in criminal courts, but it will also be dealt with in civil courts."
He also said the Metropolitan police could face requests from other people who believe their personal data was obtained by the newspaper group and its agents. Hughes said parliament is likely to scrutinise the payouts and consider whether UK privacy law is sufficient in "the new data centred age".
"It is very easy for individuals to break into, buy their way into, data on the rest of us, ordinary citizens, well-known and not well-known, and it is very difficult for the ordinary citizen to get any come back. If you are rich and you take legal action and be willing to risk the costs of legal action, that is one thing, but it doesn't apply to most of the people in this country."