Ex-Cameron Aide Detained Over Alleged Perjury

by David Stringer
Wednesday May 30, 2012
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LONDON (AP) - The former top media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron was detained Wednesday on suspicion of perjury in the trial of a flamboyant ex-Scottish lawmaker - the latest case tied to allegations of wrongdoing by British tabloid newspapers.

Andy Coulson, 44, was detained by Scottish police at his home in London over an accusation related to evidence he gave in a high-profile case at Glasgow’s High Court in 2010, when politician Tommy Sheridan was himself convicted of offering a false account.

Sheridan had won a lawsuit against the now-defunct News of The World tabloid over its claim that he was embroiled in a sex-and-drugs scandal, but was later jailed for three years after a jury at the 2010 trial ruled that he had committed perjury when he sued the newspaper.

Coulson was editor of the tabloid when stories about Sheridan were published, and working as Cameron’s communications director when he gave evidence to the trial.

The ex-tabloid chief quit his post at the News of The World in 2007 after a reporter and a private investigator were jailed over phone hacking offenses, but later the same year was appointed as communications director to Cameron, then Britain’s opposition chief.

He quit in January 2011 amid new revelations about the extent over phone hacking at his former newspaper.

Cameron has insisted he had been right to offer Coulson a "second chance," but the aide’s arrest last year by London police investigating phone hacking, and his detention by Scottish police, have raised new questions about the British leader’s judgment. The prime minister’s ties to both Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, an ex-chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, have brought the tabloid phone hacking scandal to his door.

Scottish police said Coulson would be taken to Scotland for questioning, but that he had not yet been formally arrested. In Scotland, which uses a different legal system from the rest of Britain, a suspect can be detained by police to answer questions before being formally arrested.

Glasgow’s Strathclyde Police said Coulson has been detained early on Wednesday "on suspicion of committing perjury at the High Court in Glasgow."

The police department said the case was tied to Operation Rubicon, a Scottish police investigation into allegations of phone hacking, breaches of data protection and perjury by newspapers. Those inquiries are running separately to major investigations by London police into newspaper malpractice.

Coulson is currently on police bail in connection with the London inquiry, meaning he must return to answer more questions from detectives there in the near future. He has also testified to the country’s media ethics inquiry.

Giving evidence to Sheridan’s 2010 trial, Coulson told the court that he didn’t "accept there was a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World."

In 2006, Sheridan won a defamation suit against the tabloid after it claimed he had visited a swingers’ club, had taken part in orgies and used cocaine. However, a year after his courtroom victory against the newspaper, police arrested and charged Sheridan with perjury in connection with the hearing.

The subsequent trial riveted Scotland, with its lurid allegations about sex clubs and tabloid skullduggery.

Sheridan, who defended himself, accused the News of The World of deliberately smearing him because it was opposed to his politics. The lawmaker first represented the Scottish Socialist Party in Scotland’s Parliament, but later broke away to form his own Solidarity party.

As he gave evidence, Coulson insisted he had ordered his reporters to work within the law, and said that the newspaper had no axe to grind with Sheridan. "I had no interest in destroying you, Mr. Sheridan," Coulson told the 2010 court hearing.

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