POLITICS
16/08/2011 10:52 BST | Updated 16/10/2011 06:12 BST

Latest Phone Hacking Claims Are 'Very Serious' For Andy Coulson, MPs Say

The latest allegations to emerge from a letter by former royal reporter Clive Goodman on phone hacking at News of The World are “very, very serious" for former Number 10 aide Andy Coulson, MP Tom Watson has said.

In the letter written four years ago to an HR manager Goodman said phone hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial meetings on the Sunday paper, when Coulson was editor.

Watson, who helped campaign to expose the scandal told ITV news on Tuesday: “Let me just be clear: if what Goodman says is accurate then it's very, very serious for Andy Coulson and Tom Crone the lawyer.

“If it's not accurate, the central question is why did Les Hinton, the chief executive of News International at the time, on receiving this letter, not mention it to a parliamentary inquiry that he gave evidence to only days afterwards and why did he not immediately call in the police?"

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the latest cache of documents released by the Commons culture committee "raises serious questions about the extent of the cover-up at News International".

He reiterated concerns about the judgement of Prime Minister David Cameron, who employed Coulson as his chief media adviser.

"The problem for Mr Cameron is that he was already warned by the article in the New York Times last year about the same behaviour that today's evidence claims went on at the News of the World when Andy Coulson was the editor. Yet he continued to employ Andy Coulson as his Director of Communications," he said.

"Every new bit of evidence shows how catastrophic his judgement was."

Culture committee chairman John Whittingdale, said the evidence released on Tuesday was “extraordinary”.

“In that letter he [Goodman] says the reason why he is appealing is because other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures. He then goes on to say that this practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor.

“That is a pretty extraordinary claim and that is obviously something which we are going to want to follow up as well.”

Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis also told the BBC it was “patently nonsense” that senior figures in News International were not aware of phone hacking.

In the wake of James Murdoch’s evidence that he was unaware of emails which indicated the practice was widespread at the newspaper being questioned, the Labour MP said he had “questions to answer”.

"It's right that John Whittingdale the chairman of the select committee has said today that it's likely that in due course Mr Murdoch will have to come back and appear before the select committee."

News International said they understood the material was significant: “We recognise the seriousness of materials disclosed to the Police and Parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities.”

Coulson has denied under oath that he knew phone hacking was widespread at the paper.