Tom Watson

Watson made his comments in a letter to the Society of Editors, which he invited the society to read at its annual conference today

Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Tom Watson, the Labour MP at the forefront of the parliamentary investigation into phone hacking, has hit out at the BBC over its coverage of the scandal.

Writing to the Society of Editors to apologise for being unable to attend its conference today, Watson accused BBC political editor Nick Robinson – "the most powerful political editor in the land", according to the MP – of "kissing Andy Coulson's arse".

Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World, was arrested earlier this year in connection with phone hacking and corrupt payments to police officers. He denies any knowledge of illegal practices during his time at the tabloid.

Watson also accused the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten – who addressed the conference last night – of making a "lugubrious speech justifying the BBC not being able to adequately investigate" phone hacking.

In his address to the conference, Patten rebutted allegations that the BBC had in fact been biased in spending too much time on the scandal, claiming that both ITN and Sky had proportionally devoted more time to it.

Watson told the Society of Editors in his letter than he was unable to attend because he had to discuss with fellow members of the culture, media and sport select committee
allegations that they were the target of surveillance by News International.

"I am very disappointed not to be with you," Watson told the society.

"Had I been there, I would have made the case for editors getting on the front foot and coming up with their own reform position – one that protects the noble tradition of robust, no-nonsense journalism that typifies the British newspaper industry but that ensures editors put matters right when they get them wrong.

"I would also have taken a pot shot at Lord Patten’s lugubrious speech justifying the BBC not being able to adequately investigate the phone-hacking scandal. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport committee published a report that found Rupert Murdoch’s executives guilty of 'collective amnesia'.

"We found it 'inconceivable' that others were not involved in hacking. Where was Nick Robinson, the most powerful political editor in the land, during this period? Kissing Andy Coulson’s arse.

"Please feel free read out the contents of this letter to delegates with my sincere apologies for not being there.

The BBC declined to comment.

Watson surprised fellow MPs and members of the audience during James Murdoch's recent appearance before the culture, media and sport select committee when he likened News International to the mafia, and said the company operated by a mafia-like code of silence to cover up "intimidation, corruption and general illegality".

The Labour MP was criticised for the comments by James Harding, the editor of News International title the Times. Harding questioned Watson's motivation, telling the Society of Editors' conference that as a result of the mafia comments the MP "goes from looking like a man who is pursuing an investigation, he goes to looking like a man who is pursuing an agenda".

Watson came under pressure to quit the committee in October following his appointment as
deputy chair of the Labour Party. The chairman of the select committee, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, pointed out that members of the shadow cabinet should not sit on backbench committees. Whittingdale has no power to force Watson to stand down however, and the Labour MP has refused to do so.

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