London, Jul 20: Embattled British Prime Minister David Cameron today regretted “in hindsight” hiring of a former Murdoch group editor as his media adviser and stoically defended his staff saying allegations that they tried to scuttle the phone hacking probe were “completely wrong”.
Launching a spirited defense in a pandemonium-filled parliament, Cameron also announced a widening of the phone hacking probe beyond the press, to examine the functioning of broadcasters and social media.
In his showdown with angry opposition in the House of Commons, Cameron said he had done nothing wrong in the now mothballed Rupert Murdoch bid for BSkyB and also had no dealings with another NOTW hacking suspect Neil Wallis.
Returning mid way from his visit to Africa to deal with the biggest crisis of his term, Cameron addressed the emergency session of the House where he offered his “regret” on hiring former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications director.
He, however, defended Coulson, saying he should be held innocent until proven guilty, to loud jeers from the opposition lawmakers.
Cameron, nevertheless, said he would offer a “profound apology” if Coulson came out tainted in the scandal. “People will of course make judgements about it. Of course I regret and I am extremely sorry about the furore it has caused,” Cameron said.
“With 20-20 hindsight and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it.
He also said that “to risk any perception that No 10 was seeking to influence a sensitive police investigation in any way would have been completely wrong”.
“But you don't make decisions in hindsight, you make them in the present. You live and you learn and believe you me, I have learned,” the Prime Minister said. The emergency session came a day after media mogul Rupert Murdoch refused to take the blame for the phone hackings at his group's newspaper that have already led to resignations of two top London cops.
The outgoing chief of the Metropolitan Police, Paul Stephenson was also grilled yesterday by a Commons panel.
Cameron also said that the arrested ex-deputy editor of NOTW, Wallis may have advised Coulson before last year's election but denied that his Conservative party had paid him.
Dwelling on the larger fall out of the scandal that has shaken British media like never before, Cameron said inquiry into the phone hacking case will be widened to examine the conduct of individuals in the police, media and politics.
“We have agreed that the inquiry should consider not just the relationship between the press, police and politicians but their individual conduct too,” Cameron said.
“And we have also made clear the inquiry should look at not just the press but other media organisations - including broadcasters and social media - if there is any evidence that they have been involved in criminal activities”.
The prime minister told lawmakers he had accepted “significant amendments” to the terms of reference of probe to be conducted by Lord Justice Leveson.
The Prime minister also vociferously defended his chief of staff for deciding against receiving a briefing from former deputy police commissioner John Yates on the issue.
“It has been suggested that my chief of staff was behaving wrongly when he didn't take John Yates' offer to be briefed. I have said the inquiry should go wherever the evidence leads. We have now published the email exchange, and it shows that my staff behaved entirely properly.
“Imagine if they had done the opposite and received privileged information. There would have been justifiable outrage and would have been completely wrong,” Cameron said. The Prime Minister also said there were huge issues over police practices and that police corruption must be rooted out.
Cameron has come under intense fire for his links to the people at the centre of the scandal that has hit Murdoch's media empire hard while also engulfing the Scotland Yard.
The Prime Minister also tried to suggest that he was above party politics by emphasising the steps being taken to reform relationships between politicians, police and media.
“If Andy Coulson is found to have perjured himself, he will face severe criminal penalties,” he said.
“I have an old fashioned view about innocent until proven guilty. But if it turns out I have been lied to, that would be a moment for a profound apology. And, in that event, I can tell you I will not fall short,” said Cameron who is dealing with the biggest crisis of his term since he assumed office in May last year.
However, Labour leader Ed Miliband said there had been a “deliberate attempt to hide the facts”. He said repeated warnings about Coulson's suitability for the job as Cameron's press spokesman had been ignored.
The proceedings came a day after Murdoch appeared before the British lawmakers, along with his son James and former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, calling it “the most humble day of my life” and apologising to the victims but denying responsibility for the fiasco. PTI