Coulson 'happy to meet police' over phone-hack claims

Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson has told police that he would be happy to meet them voluntarily to discuss fresh phone-hacking allegations.

Friends stressed that Coulson had not been contacted by police, but a spokesman for the former News of the World editor said he would be prepared to co-operate with Scotland Yard following claims by ex-NoW journalist Sean Hoare.

A spokesman for the aide said: "Mr Coulson emphatically denies these allegations. He has, however, offered to talk to officers if the need arises and would welcome the opportunity to give his view on Mr Hoare's claims."

Hoare has claimed Coulson knew of eavesdropping tactics used at the newspaper during his time in charge, something he has consistently denied.

Coulson's pledge came after Met Police assistant commissioner John Yates asked the New York Times to provide any new material it has relating to allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World. This includes an interview with Hoare.

All five candidates in the Labour leadership contest also called for a fresh inquiry into unconfirmed claims that reporters listened in to the voicemail messages of a long list of prominent figures, including politicians and celebrities.

But Cabinet minister Michael Gove accused Labour of "recycling" old allegations in the hope of embarrassing Prime Minister David Cameron.

Coulson came under renewed pressure last week after former journalists told the New York Times that the practice of phone hacking was far more extensive than the newspaper acknowledged at the time.

In his statement last night, Yates said: "Since further allegations in relation to phone hacking first emerged in the Guardian in July 2009, the Metropolitan Police has been very clear about its position and made this public on a number of occasions.

"The newspaper produced no new evidence for us to consider reopening the case - a position endorsed separately by the Director of Public Prosecutions and leading counsel. We have always said that this position could change if new evidence was produced.

"The New York Times contacted the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) about their investigation. Our stance remains as before.

"We have repeatedly asked them for any new material that they have for us to consider. We were never made aware of the material from Sean Hoare before the article's publication.

"We have sought additional information from them and will consider this material, along with Sean Hoare's recent BBC radio interview, and will consult the Crown Prosecution Service on how best to progress it."

Yates also repeated the Met's assurance that there was "no evidence" that former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott's phone was hacked.

Lord Prescott has threatened to take legal action to force police to release any documents relating to him which were seized during an investigation which in 2007 led to journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire being jailed.

But Yates said the Met had already provided Lord Prescott with all the information relevant to him, and by law could not supply the actual documents unless ordered to do so by a court.

The officer said: "Separately, we are aware of the current claims in the media from, amongst others, Lord Prescott about his view that his phone was hacked.

"There remains to this day no evidence that his phone was hacked by either Mulcaire or Goodman. This is a matter of public record.

"Lord Prescott also alleges that the MPS has failed to disclose material to him in a timely way.

"Lord Prescott has been provided with the information the MPS has in its possession relevant to him. However, we are not permitted to supply the actual documents except under a court direction. This is because the material was obtained for the purpose of a criminal investigation and cannot be used for another purpose - i.e. a civil action. Lord Prescott and his solicitors will be aware of this."

Asked about the phone-hacking allegations during a televised Labourt leadership debate on Sky News yesterday, Andy Burnham said: "Mr Cameron has been delivering fairly pompous lectures for some time now about restoring trust in politics and the position Andy Coulson holds is fundamental to the information that the Government puts out.

"We just can't have a situation where these questions keep swirling around this individual. They need to be cleared up once and for all."

And Ed Miliband said: "When there are questions about the integrity of the communications operation in Downing Street, the wrong thing for a Prime Minister to do is to try to sweep it under the carpet."

In a statement released today, the News of the World accused the New York Times of being motivated by commercial rivalry.

It said: "The News of the World repeatedly asked the New York Times to provide evidence to support their allegations and they were unable to do so.

"Indeed, the story they published contained no new credible evidence and relied heavily on anonymous sources, contrary to the paper's own editorial guidelines.

"In so doing they have undermined their own reputation and confirmed our suspicion their story was motivated by commercial rivalry.

"We reject absolutely any suggestion there was a widespread culture of wrongdoing at the News of the World."

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