British PM's aide got Murdoch cash after quitting: report

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 23, 2011 4:44 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp gave cash and benefits to the former editor of the News of the World tabloid when he worked for David Cameron in opposition, the BBC said on Tuesday, in a new embarrassment for the British prime minister.

Cameron's hiring of Andy Coulson in 2007 shortly after he stood down as editor when one of his reporters was convicted of hacking mobile phones has been criticized by the opposition as a lack of judgment. Cameron retained Coulson as his communications director when he was elected prime minister in 2010.

The BBC said Coulson, who was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of being involved in phone hacking, received several hundred thousand pounds from the company as part of a severance package that ran in installments until the end of 2007.

He also received benefits such as healthcare for three years and kept his company car, the corporation said, quoting sources.

News International, the British newspaper wing of the News Corp media empire, declined to comment.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party said senior party officials had not known about the severance arrangements. Downing Street declined to comment but noted that the events occurred before Cameron became prime minister.

Cameron's critics will seize on the report as proof that Cameron showed a lack of judgment in appointing a man who was so closely associated with Murdoch. They say the appointment was designed to secure the support of Murdoch and his media titles, which include the most read in Britain.

Coulson was forced to leave his communications job earlier this year when police further investigated the hacking allegations.

He has since been arrested by police, along with several other former employees of the paper, and is facing questions over what he knew about the phone hacking, which was used to secure stories.

A four-year-old letter from the reporter who went to jail in 2007, never intended for publication and written as part of an appeal against his dismissal, was released last week, stating that hacking was talked about openly at the newspaper until Coulson banned any reference to it.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Elizabeth Piper)