He might well be Lewisham’s most controversial resident. He’s certainly made the most headlines. Andy Coulson, who lives with his family in Forest Hill, resigned today as David Cameron’s head of communications.
Dogged by allegations that he was complicit in illegal phone hacking whilst editor of the News of the World, Downing Street’s king of spin said today: “When the spokesperson needs a spokesperson, it’s time to go.”
Coulson’s rise from humble beginnings to the heart of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, and then David Cameron’s government, is a big enough story in itself.
He grew up in a council house in Essex and whilst Cameron and his cabinet were getting degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, he was getting his hands dirty as a hack on the Basildon Echo.
His first big newspaper job came in 1988 when another infamous tabloid figure, Piers Morgan, handpicked him for The Sun’s showbiz column: “Bizarre”.
From there his ascent was meteoric. An uncompromising reputation and a succession of high-selling scoops saw him rise through the ranks and win the attention of News International’s top brass. In 2003, aged just 34, he became editor of the News of the World.
It was while at the helm of the News of the World that another story started being told about Andy Coulson.
When in 2007 the newspaper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman and a private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for illegally hacking into the voicemail messages of a number of celebrities, Coulson did what seemed to be the honourable thing. He said he had known nothing of the criminal activity, but that since it happened on his watch, he took “ultimate responsibility” and resigned.
Coulson must have thought that would put the lid on the story. The episode certainly didn’t stand in the way of his career.
Within months he had a new job as head of communications for the Conservative Party. On a reported salary of £475,000, Coulson set to work making the Tories look electable again.
The appointment raised eyebrows in many quarters. Coulson has described Rupert Murdoch’s News International, whom he served for almost his entire career, as his “spiritual home”. Now Murdoch’s man was working for the Conservatives. Coupled with rumours of Tony Blair’s imminent resignation, News International’s backing for Labour looked in doubt.
Sure enough, drinks on Murdoch’s yacht soon followed for David Cameron. Then in 2009 The Sun switched its support from Labour to Conservative. A year later the Conservatives and Andy Coulson were in Downing Street.
But throughout it all, one story refused to go away. Successive investigations by the Guardian, the New York Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches uncovered more and more evidence to contradict Coulson’s assertions that the phone hacking at the News of the World had been restricted to one or two “bad eggs”. A former reporter said the practice had been “endemic”.
Coulson has appeared before a House of Commons inquiry into the scandal, and once again denied sanctioning illegal activity. In November he volunteered to be questioned by police.
Then last week the Crown Prosecution Service opened a fresh investigation into the allegations.
Now the story that would not go away has finally caught up with Andy Coulson. He has had to abandon arguably the most powerful media job in the country.
Today’s resignation is not a confession of wrongdoing. Coulson says he “stands by” his previous statements on the matter. It’s still not clear how widespread phone hacking was at the News of the World, nor what part, if any, Coulson played in it.
Nor do we know who will replace Coulson at Downing Street, or indeed what the man himself will do next.
The Coulson story, it would seem, is far from over.