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Britain’s top prosecutor won’t charge Cameron aide in alleged cellphone hacking

Britain’s chief prosecutor said Friday that he would not bring charges against a top prime ministerial aide embroiled in a scandal over the suspected hacking of cellphones belonging to celebrities, politicians and employees of the royal family.

Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said an investigation had not yielded sufficient evidence for charges to be filed against Andy Coulson, Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director and the onetime editor of the News of the World.

Coulson was accused by a former reporter at the weekly tabloid of being aware that his staff routinely tried to hack into the cellphones of prominent Britons to ferret out gossip and scoops. The allegation surfaced in an investigation of the tabloid published by the New York Times in September.

The News of the World’s royal affairs reporter, Clive Goodman, was convicted three years ago of illegally accessing voicemail left for aides to the royal family, including some from Princes William and Harry. Coulson stepped down as editor over the incident but has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the reporter’s activities.

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After the New York Times article appeared, police questioned Coulson and others named in it, including Sean Hoare, the journalist who made the accusation against him. Hoare was fired from the News of the World several years ago.

Starmer said Hoare refused to elaborate on his allegations when interviewed by police. Other witnesses also “either refused to cooperate with the police investigation, provided short statements which did not advance matters or denied any knowledge of wrongdoing,” Starmer said.

As a result, “there is no admissible evidence” on which to initiate criminal proceedings, he said.

The police investigation threatened to embarrass Cameron, who took power just seven months ago. But the prime minister has stuck by Coulson, saying the aide has his full support.

In 2007, the year of Goodman’s conviction, police gathered evidence suggesting that the tabloid had access to the cellphones of hundreds of people, including professional athletes, models, top officials and aides to the royal household. But few of the potential targets were warned that their phones were vulnerable.

Critics say Scotland Yard may have suppressed a wider investigation to maintain good relations with the tabloid, which, like other such publications, often offers flattering coverage of celebrity arrests and other high-profile cases. Police deny the accusation.

henry.chu@latimes.com


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