Andy Coulson
Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA

Follow our liveblog below from today's (10 May) Leveson inquiry hearing, where Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and former communications director for David Cameron, is giving evidence.

Leveson makes clear he wants politicians to have a medium in which they can communicate their message as well as a way of being held to account. The question is how to ensure this happens in an appropriate way.

Heays he’s interested to hear Coulson's view, if he has one.

"One point that troubles me in evidence... is the idea that a friendship is always based on some ulterior motive," says Coulson.

Leveson counters this is not fair as he has said that politicians and journalists are welcome to be friends with people, but that the line needs to be drawn between personal relationships and professional ones.

Coulson agrees and says politicians' transparency with their meetings with the media will improve as a result of what has happened in recent months.

End of the evidence. Leveson says: “I understand why this has not been an easy process,” but says it was useful.

Jay asks Coulson if there's anything he wants to say. Wants to make a point about the BSkyB deal and any supposed link with NI.

Coulson: "If there's a deal and if there was a conspiracy as people seem to be suggesting, why was Vince Cable given the job?"

He questions "why on earth" Cameron would have given the job to to "a combative member of the Liberal Democrats party" if that was the case.

Leveson asks about the issue of whether the relationship between the press and the politicians has become too close and no longer viable for good government, one which it is at the core of this part of the enquiry.

Leveson: "I would like your view on whether that relationship has become too close... and how that should be addressed."

Coulson agrees with Cameron that the relationship got too close: "They've got in the way of the message." What do about it is more complicated.

Coulson: "I would hate to think more barriers would be erected between politics and the press."

He quotes the turnout at last week's local elections. If it is more difficult to report on politics, then this would probably get worse, in Coulson’s view. He suggests some people might think it may have been because of this inquiry, creating barriers.

Coulson says he had not seen the full letter described. "On the basis that the judgement could not even get my quote right" Coulson is reluctant to comment on it.

Coulson does not accept his behaviour equated to bullying.

Coulson claimed Driscoll continued in his work in a very positive way after this letter, but Jay says the tribunal found otherwise.

Coulson: "My view was that the issues that led to the tribunal were serious and should be taken seriously and yes, I expressed the view that in my view he perhaps should have lost his job. But that didn't happen and I accepted that."

Coulson says that he accepted the tribunal’s judgement.

He says that if he was to make decisions based on losing a tip then the majority of the editorial staff would be on disciplinaries and that the Arsenal shirt story was not particularly important. 

Coulson says he did not know about the Matt Driscoll's employment tribunal in advance, and if he did he does not recall knowing about it in advance.

"I've asked NI to brief me on the background to this case... they've not been able to do so because I'm an ex-employee," says Coulson

He regrets he was not asked to give evidence at the employment tribunal, which found Driscoll was the victim of a bullying campaign at NotW.

Coulson claims he never said he wanted to "get shot of" Driscoll

Coulson’s statement says he only got involved with policy when it was likely to have an effect on the media.

Coulson: "There is a personality aspect in politics that has probably increased over the years."

Coulson is asked if he discussed his departure with Brooks or anyone in NI.

He replies he is "confident" if he did, it was after he resigned. "I don’t think I told anyone I resigned until after I told the Prime Minister."

Coulson: "Did I have strong views and did I express those views with journalists about Gordon Brown or Labour politicians... I think I probably would, in the same way I sought to articulate as positive a picture possible of the Conservatives, but I don’t think I did so improperly," says Coulson. He adds he does not recall briefing against anyone.

Now looking at a list of media meetings in government.

Coulson says he was not in the "back door" meeting with Ruprt Murdoch, but saw him before and after the meeting. He confirms Murdoch came through the back door of 10 Downing street, and suspects it happened in previous administrations.

Leveson wonders if there are "back door people and front door people".

Coulson remarks the back door is easier to go through because it’s nearer the car park. He Mentions Paul Dacre’s meeting and says he does not know which door he came through but had he asked, he may have been able to go through the back door.

Jay asks if Coulson explored if it was possible for private donors to top up his salary.

Coulson says no, his salary was not topped up by private donors.

Jay asks if Coulson knew about Vince Cable’s attitude to the BSkyB bid?

Coulson: "I don’t have a specific memory of it – I certainly didn’t talk to him about it."

Coulson says he wasn't involved in the BSkyB bid, "save for my communications role."

Jay referrs to the "political storm" involving the Vince Cable/BSKyB story.

Jay asks if Coulson spoke to Jeremy Hunt about it. Coulson says no.

Jay and Coulson go over some of the meetings where Brooks and Coulson were present, one of which was a dinner which took place the same day as the Sun's "Labour's lost it" headline.

Coulson talks about his dealings with Fred Michel.

Coulson does not recall any conversation regarding NI wanting to acquire the remaining shares in BSkyB. He does not remember if he knew about it beforehand.

"I don’t remember any conversations with Rebekah about it."

Jay notes Coulson was very cautious about everything as the director of communications at Number 10. Coulson claims he was not sure of any support until it was in the actual paper.

The moment he saw the paper's front page on Sky News was when he knew.

"It's not the front page I would have wanted, nor was the timing," he says.

Coulson says he cannot recall if he had a conversation with Brooks that night.

Jay notes the timing was pretty good, coming after Gordon Brown's leadership. Coulson claims he was more interested in the impact for the Conservative party.

Coulson says he found a pro-Cameron headline in a sub-deck somewhere. He was pleased they were moving to the Conservatives but wished it had been at another time and in another way. 

Leveson asks Coulson if he has had the opportunity to watch or read what Rupert Murdoch said about political support.

Leveson recalls how Rupert Murdoch said the paper that was close to his heart was the Sun, that he was involved with its political leanings and was not quite as interested in NotW. Did that surprise Coulson?

"I'm not for a second suggesting Rupert Murdoch wasn’t a fundamental part of the decision process," says Coulson.

He repeats he does not know exactly who was involved. "I’m sure Rupert Murdoch was involved and I’m sure he made his views very clear."

Leveson wonders if an editor would tell Murdoch they would be be going in another direction. Coulson says: "That would be a very bold move."

Coulson took the view it was going to be down to Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks as to where the Sun would eventually lean, as well as editor Dominic Mohan.

The line of communication to Brooks was important in Coulson’s view.

Jay asks how Mohan compares to Brook, Coulson doesn’t budge.

Coulson knew it would take time to get the Sun's endorsement from past experience, but at his time there were ups and downs.

Coulson agrees it was a big moment for the Sun to switch to the Conservatives but points out "the far bigger shock was them backing Tony Blair."

Coulson knew about the trip to Santorini when Rupert Murdoch and Cameron met.  He was involved in the logistics, but was not heavily involved and did not accompany Cameron on the trip.

Coulson believed it was "better to have the conversation than not have the conversation" between Murdoch and Cameron.

Jay again probes for information regarding the "slide" from Labour to Conservative on NI’s part rather than specific "moments".

Coulson said he believed it was a good opportunity but didn't know many details from the conversation.

Coulson says he does not recall a specific conversation regarding NotW's endorsement, but will have spoken with Myler about it along with other newspapers.

Coulson reiterates it was about maximising opportunities to get their message across. Jay clarifies he meant NotW in particular - Coulson had contacts with several people on the paper.

Jay asks when Coulson sensed that Brooks would give the Conservatives the paper's endorsement. Coulson claims he did not take any of it for granted.

The inquiry resumes.

Jay discusses shares in NI previously owned by Coulson.

Coulson says he overlooked a set of shares.

Coulson: "I didn't take the time to look at my own circumstances, and I should have done."

Coulson says he didn't discuss their existence with anyone in government or anyone in the civil service.

It emerges that Coulson did have access to information designated top secret and also attended sensitive meetings, despite not having normal level of vetting for someone in his position.

The 'long-standing' family connection between Brooks and Cameron is discussed.

Regarding Cameron's statement of everyone becoming close to NI, Jay asks if this was something expressed to Coulson before he left? Coulson says no.

Jay asks if Coulson was surprised at this statement?

Coulson says he doesn't know if he was surprised considering the chain of events preceding it.

He denies there were any "improper" conversations between politicians and NI, deriding the idea of a "conspiracy". Jay asks him to look at it less literally.

Coulson denies there was an "unhealthy" relationship.

"I think things are going to change, they already have," he says.

Coulson says they were the first government ever to be transparent with their meetings with the media.

There is a disagreement between Jay and Coulson about whether this transparency begun before or after Coulson left.

Leveson calls for a short break.

Jay notes that Colin Myler, who succeeded Coulson as NotW editor of NotW, was 'left-leaning'. He asks if that meant the paper's support for the Conservatives was not "in the bag”?

The Sun was of interest to Cameron because of its circulation, says Coulson.

Jay asks if it had more to do with the “floating voters” who read the paper.

Coulson says the "floating voters" make a part of the circulation and expresses his scepticism that a single paper's support would help a party's chances at an election.

Coulson: "We wanted the support of as many papers as we could.

"Newspapers were not the only focus by any measure of our communications. television was fundamentally important and we were clear they were important from the off."

Leveson points out television was bound to be impartial, unlike newspapers.

Coulson emphasises the importance of television, saying it is "as crucial as newspapers, and, in fact as we got closer to the election, even more so."

Coulson says the Conservatives wanted good relationships with all newspapers, including the Sun.

Coulson: "You can’t rely on a call to an editor to guarantee anything and nor should you."

He denies it was particularly important for them to be close to Brooks, and says it was about getting the "best possible chance for the best possible coverage."

Coulson says he didn’t put much effort into the Mirror, but adds the Conservatives wanted to talk to as many people as possible because there was an "electoral mountain" to climb.

Coulson says he made clear his News International background should not be seen as some sort of guarantee of the support of either the Sun or NotW should he be hired.

He admits his personal connections would help in his job, but adds these connection went beyond News International.

Jay notes Brooks was becoming more influential in her career. He asks if politicians were keen to get close to Brooks.

Coulson: "I think if you're a politician and you get a chance to talk to an editor, you'll take it and try to sell yourself in the best possible light."

Leveson wants to understand the interview process. He asks again for Coulson to clarify if he sold himself to Osborne.

Coulson admits he would have tried to impress to them that he would be good at the job.

Leveson asks what Coulson used to prove this.

Coulson says it would have been his broad experience: after he stopped as showbiz reporter, he worked across the Sun and the NotW.

Coulson: "They may well have been trying to tease out whether I was the right man for the job... that's more than possible."

Coulson considered the conversation with Cameron in May 2007 as being the confirmation of his getting the job.

Coulson says Cameron asked him about the Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire case. Coulson says he told him what he said publicly, that he knew nothing.

Jay asks if Coulson told Brooks (Wade at the time) about the job.

Coulson says he told a "close group of friends" and that Brooks was likely to have been one of them.

Jay says the process moved on from meeting Osborne to meeting Cameron. He asks if Coulson wondered why they were asking him.

Coulson: "I was dealing in issues, I ran campaigns, I aimed to be in tune with an audience which was vast."

Coulson points out the route from journalism to politics is well-travelled.

Jay asks if Osborne asked about Coulson's connections to News International.

Coulson says he doesn’t remember.

"I'm sure the conversation would have touched on my previous employers in some way."

Jas asks if it was the elephant in the room.

"Not really, no."

Coulson again reiterates he cannot tell them what Osborne was thinking.

His initial reaction was to be slightly reluctant, but he was intrigued and eventually decided it was something he wanted to do.

Coulson says Osborne told him television would play a "crucial" part in a general election, more so than before.

Considered Coulson had zero political experience before his role with the Conservatives, Jay asks what qualities Osborne thought he would bring to the table.

"The conversation was very much, what do you think we need to do to get elected?" says Coulson.

Jay suggests it didn’t feel like an interview at all and it was clear from the off they were interested in hiring Coulson.

Coulson: "I don’t know what was in George Osborne's mind."

Leveson intervenes: "You’re a newspaper man, you're used to selling stories – did you not see this as selling yourself?"

Coulson says he wasn't even thinking about politics and was even reluctant to go to the meeting. He says he gave an outline to Osborne to give the party a better chance in the election – there was a bit of discussion about the press but mostly about television.

Jay discusses Coulson being hired by the Conservatives. Jay says Coulson was approached by Osborne in March 2007, and asked if he would be interesting in joining the team.

Jay suggests Osborne knew Coulson's leanings were with the Conservatives.

"You’ll have to ask Mr Osborne that," says Coulson. "In any event, he was correct."

Jay asks about Coulson's resignation from the NotW.

Coulson says there were no conversations with Rupert Murdoch beforehand, and that he resigned two weeks before he actually left. He says he resigned on the basis he would leave consensually.

Coulson: "It was my decision, there wasn't a negotiation... I went to see Les Hinton and I was very clear that I was going to resign."

Jay asks if Coulson still had stock in News International?

He replies he still had shares that he sold immediately on leaving.

Coulson says he received commiserations from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown upon leaving, but doesn’t remember if he received any from Cameron.

Jay quizzes Coulson over the "Top Tory, Coke and the Hooker" headline story relating to George Osborne, which ran as a front page in NotW in October 2005 and was also covered by the Sunday Mirror on the same day.

Coulson says that this can't be seen as good for Osborne.

Jay argues that Coulson's editorial on the story was favourable to Osborne, as it argued he should be given another chance. Jay asks if this was putting a favourable gloss on "quite a murky world" because Osborne was set to be Cameron’s number 2

Coulson dismisses this, saying: "These were the claims of someone who was a friend of a friend as I seem to remember, so that was the view formed."

Coulson doesn’t believe this is a good example of NotW being favourable to the Conservative party.

"Had we not had a DVD promotion that day, this story would have been twice the size."

"I think I'm right in saying other newspapers follow it... it still gets a reasonable amount of coverage in the Guardian." says Coulson.

Regarding an alleged conversation with Gordon Brown at the Labour conference in Manchester, Coulson says he didn't believe Rupert Murdoch would have had a conversation with Brown about whether or not Coulson would be in line for editorship of the Sun.

"I came away believing this was an attempt by Mr Brown to impress on me his closeness to Mr Murdoch. Quite frankly, I didn't believe it."

Jay asks if issues which affect the press as a whole came up in conversation. Other than the Human Rights Act, Coulson doesn’t recall but says: "I'm certainly a believer in the freedom of the press, that much is true."

Coulson: "The explicit issue of 'will you support us” was not brought up to me in that time."

Coulsay says politicians on both sides seek to get their message across, hoping to be brought across in a positive light.

Jay presses coulson on whether there was subtext to these conversations with politicians.

Coulson reiterates he focused on what would "best serve the News of the World readers."

Jay questions Coulson on the paper’s choice to support Tony Blair.

Jay: "Did they believe Blair would win?"

Coulson believed his paper's readers would be best served by Blair.

The Sun and NotW are described as "separate" papers, with a clear dividing line between the two.

Jay asks if the Sun’s endorsement of Labour was a surprise?

Coulson doesn't think so. He doesn’t believe he had a conversation with Rupert Murdoch about the 2005 election.

"I don’t feel that I was pushed or encouraged or certainly told to go a certain way."

Jay asks if David Cameron was Coulson's preferred candidate for Conservative leadership at that time?

Coulson: "I don't think the News of the World explicitly supported Cameron, I don't think we explicitly supported anyone."

Coulson says the furthest they went was a leader saying it was Cameron’s race to win.

The paper's “Hug a hoodie” headline wasn’t especially helpful to Cameron, according to Coulson.

Coulson is again questioned on his relationship with Murdoch:

Coulson: "I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with him. He was warm and supportive."

Regarding the possibility of his becoming editor of the Mirror, Coulson says there were "conversations" and he chose not to do so.

Jay questions whether this was due to his loyalty to Murdoch.

Coulson: "My job as editor was absolutely to produce a successful newspaper." He adds circulation figures were a part of this.

Discussion moves on to political issues.

Jay asks if Europe was something Coulson and Murdoch discussed? Coulson says yes.

Jay asks if Murdoch wanted to know how political opinion was shaped in the UK.

Coulson says he does not recall a specific conversation, but it might have come up.

Coulson: "My job as editor was, as best I could, establish where the NotW’s readership was" “

Coulson claims he followed, rather than led, in terms of the political agenda.

"I don't think you can get readers to do anything other than try to get them to buy the paper," says Coulson.

Leveson clarifies the question is whether a paper would support a cause if they believed it matched the opinion of their readership.

Jay asks about differences between the Sun and the News of the World (NotW).

Coulson: "The pace of the paper is very different, if you try to find a comparison between the mood of the News of the World and the Sun, it’s a Saturday because that’s when you produce the paper."

Jay asks if Coulson had contact with Rupert Murdoch.

Coulson says Murdoch would usually call on a Saturday, but "sometimes you’d go a couple of months without hearing from him." He describes his contact as "irregular".

Coulson says Rupert Murdoch would talk about sports as News International had invested heavily in NotW’s sports coverage.

Coulson on Murdoch: "We discussed politics generally and he would give me his view on whatever was in the news at the time."

He adds that sport was “crucial” in driving the sales of the NotW, so naturally came up in conversation between the editor and the proprietor.

Jay notes that sport is quite a neutral topic to focus on.

Jay asks Coulson if he is close to Rebekah Brooks.

Coulson states they haven’t spoken in a while "for obvious reasons". He adds that they used to speak "regularly", occasionally by email and text.

Regarding whether Rebekah Brooks knew of Coulson's political allegiances: "She knew I worked for the Conservatives, so that was pretty clear." But Coulson claims he has no idea how she votes or what Brooks’s personal political beliefs are.

Jay: "Was she someone who was close to politicans?"

Coulson replies in the line of her work, yes.

Robert Jay QC goes over a timeline of Coulson's career, including editing a column in the Sun and his time at News of The World as well as his work as director of communications at Downing Street up to January 2011.

Jay asks a general question regarding reports Coulson kept a personal diary akin to Alastair Campbell’s.

Coulson says this is not true.

Jay states that no questions will be asked regarding the ongoing police operations Eleveden and Weeting, as Coulson has previously been arrested as part of these investigations

Andy Coulson takes the stand

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