Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson told the Leveson Inquiry today: ‘I am not a bully”.
The ex-Downing Street spin doctor was responding to allegations made during the 2009 employment tribunal of former NoW sports reporter Matt Driscoll.
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The tribunal found he was unfairly sacked and discriminated against on the grounds of disability and awarded him £792,736 in compensation.
It concluded the original source of the ‘bullying behaviour”, which dated back to 2004, was Coulson, who resigned from the paper after royal editor Clive Goodman was found guilty of phone-hacking in January 2007.
In written evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Coulson said it was a ‘matter of enormous regret’that he was never given the opportunity to give evidence at Driscoll’s hearing.
‘I feel that I have been tried and judged in my absence,’he said. ‘The disciplinary proceedings which led directly to the termination of Matt Driscoll’s employment commenced in March 2007, after I had resigned from the News of the World.”
Coulson noted that Driscoll’s employment claim was also launched well after his resignation, and claimed neither side asked him to give evidence at the heading.
“If I had been asked whether there was a culture of bullying on the paper, or if Mr Driscoll had been subject to disability discrimination, I would have denied it,’he said.
He went onto challenge several of the tribunal’s findings, and criticised the level of Driscoll’s payout.
Driscoll claimed he fell foul of Coulson in late 2004 when the editor tipped him off that Arsenal were planning to play in purple shirts. The club denied story – only for it to appear in The Sun three months later.
Sports editor Mike Dunn was reported to have told Driscoll: “Coulson will be on the warpath over this. We are dead.” Dunn denied having the conversation.
Coulson said that such tips often failed to be stood up and that ‘if I had held a grudge against every reporter who failed to confirm a tip, many people other than Matt Driscoll would have been complaining about me”.
‘Contrary to the tribunal’s view that Matt DriscolI’s fate was sealed in 2004, it was not. Matt Driscoll was not disciplined for failing to corroborate the tip,” he continued.
Driscoll was not the subject of disciplinary proceedings until the summer of 2005, when he was issued with a warning because he was allegedly unable to support quotes he attributed to the footballer Kolo Toure, and which led to complaints to the PCC from Arsenal.
Coulson admitted being ‘irritated’by a letter from Driscoll, and said he gave an ‘intemperate’response, but denied holding a grudge.
He added: ‘I appreciate that it could legitimately be said that I was not as supportive as another manager might have been, but that is a long way from bullying.”
He also claimed that too much was made of an email in which he said he wanted Driscoll ‘out as quickly and cheaply as possible”.
This was sent after a second incident involving a complaint by Charlton Athletic about another article written by Driscoll on 22 March 2006.
Three weeks later, said Coulson, Driscoll began discussions with Dunn about negotiating severance terms.
‘Where an employee has indicated that he wishes to leave by initiating discussions about severance, and where his recent performance suggests that he is no longer operating at the level at which he used to operate, it seems to me to be sensible to suggest that the discussions are concluded as swiftly and as inexpensively as possible,’he said.
Coulson was also ‘surprised’by the size of Driscoll’s payout, adding: ‘After the 7/7 bombings in 2005, the News of the World campaigned for an increase in the compensation pay-outs for victims.
‘That Matt Driscoll received considerably more than the amount that had been paid to someone seriously injured in those attacks was a source of some surprise to me.”