David Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry to divert attention from his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications, according to the former Scotland Yard commissioner .
It was part of a strategy, he said, to spread the blame for phone-hacking scandal that was allegedly suggested to the prime minister by his friend, the then chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks.
The allegations were made by Stephenson according to Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott, the authors of the unauthorised biography of Cameron, Call Me Dave.
According to the authors, Stephenson told them: “I think they [Cameron and Brooks] deliberately spread it wider to try to take the flak away from the decision to employ Coulson. I think there was a very strong agenda there to spread the heat around.”
Stephenson resigned from the Metropolitan Police at the height of the hacking scandal because of his links to a former senior News of the World executive, Neil Wallis.
According to the book, Cameron believed Labour leader had him “on the run” over Coulson and was also under pressure over his links to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire through Brooks.
The authors suggest Cameron may have got the idea for holding a wide-ranging inquiry into the media from Brooks, who was allegedly urging fellow newspaper executives to join a “truth and reconciliation commission.”
They cite a “newspaper insider” who said Brooks was “desperate to have anything that would spread the NotW virus into the whole of the rest of the industry.”
The idea was dismissed out of hand by other newspaper editors and executives, most of whom had nothing to do with phone hacking. But, according to the
book, “one person at least appeared to take inspiration from it: .”
He was under constant attack for employing Coulson and desperately needed to regain the initiative. So Brooks’s “truth and reconciliation commission” seemed the ideal device. The book states:
“Thus, in July 2011, he announced a turbo-charged version of what some industry figures claim was essentially her scheme.” This was the into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.
Brooks, who was cleared of all charges in relation to phone hacking, recently returned to Murdoch’s organisation as chief executive of , the company that replaced News International.
One of her close friends said she disputes the Ashcroft/Oakeshott account. She is adamant that she never suggested anything remotely like a judicial inquiry at any time and believes that the authors’ “insider” source for the allegation may have a personal axe to grind.
During her trial, it emerged that she had had a nine-year affair with Coulson, her successor as News of the World editor. He resigned from that post in 2007 following the conviction of one of his reporters for hacking phones.
He was hired months later by Cameron to be the Tory party’s communications director. After Cameron became prime minister Coulson worked in the same capacity in Downing Street until being forced to resign in January 2011 following media revelations about hacking.
Coulson was later charged with conspiracy to hack phones and was sentenced in 2014 to 18 months in prison. He was released after serving five months.
When delivered his report in 2012 he recommended a new form of press regulation underpinned by statute. Most editors, including the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, believed such state involvement would threaten press freedom.
Cameron responded by asking his cabinet office minister, Oliver Letwin, to come up with a solution. The resulting discussions led to the setting up of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), which was grudgingly accepted by most publishers and editors.
But they refused to allow Ipso to seek official recognition through a royal charter on the understanding that it also inhibits freedom of the press.
Some newspapers, including the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times, have not registered with Ipso.