Thursday 21 July 2011

DAVID Cameron was yesterday hit by shock claims that a senior civil servant had his phone hacked while Andy Coulson was in No10.

The unnamed official is also said to have been put under surveillance and made the victim of hostile media briefing.

Ex-Labour minister Nick Raynsford hit out at the “disgraceful and illegal conduct” as he revealed the allegation in the Commons.

He told Mr Cameron: “A year ago during the period when Mr Coulson was director of communications, the Cabinet Secretary was alerted to evidence of illegal phone hacking, covert surveillance and hostile media briefing directed against a senior official in the Government service.

“What action, if any, was taken to investigate what appears to have been disgraceful and illegal conduct close to the heart of Government?”

Mr Cameron said he would “have to look closely” at the allegations. But he insisted there had been no complaints against Mr Coulson while he was working in No10.

Former News of the World editor Mr Coulson was forced to resign from Downing Street in January amid claims he was aware phone hacking took place while he was in charge of the paper – an allegation he has always denied.

The Mirror was told that the official – understood to be from the Department of Education – went to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell with his fears that his phone was being hacked and that he was under surveillance.

It was claimed Sir Gus ordered Special Branch to investigate. A source said: “Special Branch told the official where the hacking was coming from and they had traced his phone and identified who was hacking it.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government would take any such accusations very seriously and would have referred them immediately to the police.

“However, this story is absolutely not true. No conversation took place – no one thinks it took place.”

Mr Raynsford said this claim was “extraordinary”. He added: “It is completely at odds with everything I have been told.”

Mr Cameron insisted that Mr Coulson had always behaved properly when in No10.

He said he accepted responsibility for employing him: “What I would say in my defence is that the time he spent in Downing Street he did not behave in a way that anyone felt was inappropriate.

“And that is important, because the decision was to employ him, the decision was then his to leave.

“During that period people cannot point to misconduct and say that, therefore, was a misjudgment.”