News International reportedly made payments to former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson after he had been hired to serve as communications chief in the Conservative Party.The BBC reports that after he left News Of The World, Coulson received a severance package of several hundred thousand pounds that was paid in installments until the end of 2007, after he had already been working for now Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party. Coulson also received health care benefits for three years, and got to keep his company car.
Coulson, who has been arrested and released on bail in connection with the phone hacking scandal, was hired by the Conservative party as communications chief in July 2007, after he resigned from News Of The World in January of that year.
In 2009, Coulson denied to Parliament that he was receiving any form of “secondary income,” and that his “sole income” at the time was from the Conservative Party.
Labour MP Tom Watson called on the Electoral Commission to investigate the legality of the payments. “Given that Andy Coulson resigned in disgrace from the News of the World over the phone-hacking scandal,” Watson said, “he took responsibility for what happened on his watch – his words, not mine – it seems remarkable that News International would feel obliged to give him any payments at all.”
Watson added: “And if those payments were discretionary then I think in law they would count as a hidden donation.”
Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who chairs the culture committee, said of the revelations: “As I understand it, these were staggered payments from a severance package. So, arguably, that’s just delayed pay.”
“But,” he continued, “if it is also true that Coulson was provided with a car and health insurance, then I would have expected him to have made that clear. And I would have expected News International to have made that clear when we asked them about it.”
The payments ended before Cameron became Prime Minister, but Cameron has been scrutinized for his decision to keep Coulson on despite his connection to the phone hacking scandal. Cameron has maintained that Coulson had assured him that he knew nothing about the hackings during his tenure at NOTW.
Coulson resigned from his post in government last January, shortly after a former NOTW reporter told the New York Times that Coulson did know about the phone hackings — and actively encouraged them.
Last week, Parliament released a 2007 letter from convicted News Of The World phone hacker Clive Goodman that alleges that phone hacking was “widely discussed” among senior staff and editors, and that Coulson tried to cover-up the extent of the practice when Goodman was negotiating his plea agreement.