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With latest arrest, Andy Coulson's past comes back to haunt him

Andy Coulson, middle, former editor of the News of the World and former spokesman for Britian's Prime Minister David Cameron, leaves after giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics and practices of the media at the High Court in central London on Thursday.


Just when it seemed that David Cameron's former communications chief Andy Coulson had fallen completely from grace, along came seven Scottish police officers on Wednesday to push him even further into the depths of Britain's tabloid scandal.

Mr. Coulson, the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct News of the World who became 10 Downing Street's most powerful aide before quitting amid allegations of dirty tricks, found himself being escorted from his London home to Glasgow on Wednesday, arrested on suspicion of perjury.

Glasgow must have been the last place on the mind or Mr. Coulson. He has already been arrested in London on suspicion of being involved in the long string of cellphone-hacking, police-bribing and spying allegations connected to the News of the World newsroom under his watch.

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(In the British system, being arrested is not the same as being charged with a crime, which hasn't happened to Mr. Coulson yet. Rather, it means being held and questioned in connection with a possible crime.)

But if he'd forgotten what connection Glasgow could possibly have to the London tabloid case, he would have been thoroughly reminded during the seven-hour drive to Scotland.

It was two years ago when Mr. Coulson entered a Glasgow courtroom as a witness in one of Scotland's most lurid political trials. The defendant, Tommy Sheridan, had been head of the far-left Scottish Socialist Party when stories began appearing – some of them with photos and videos – suggesting that he had attended a series of lurid drug-enhanced sex orgies at swingers' clubs.

Mr. Sheridan sued, and was countersued; many of his colleagues testified against him, and some in his favour. He won, and then more evidence materialized, and he was charged with perjury, convicted, and sentenced to three years in prison.

At some point in that legal imbroglio, Mr. Coulson appeared as a witness. Mr. Sheridan, representing himself against the perjury charge, was trying to show that he had been set up by the tabloids in a fabricated sting.

One of many questions Mr. Sheridan asked was: "Did the News of the World pay corrupt police officers?"

Mr. Coulson gave what then seemed a commonsense answer: "Not to my knowledge."

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And that was that: Mr. Sheridan was convicted of perjury and sent to prison for three years.

The phone-hacking scandal was at that point an obscure issue being pursued by the New York Times and hardly anyone else, so Mr. Coulson must have felt confident in saying that.

Two years later, and everything has changed. While nothing has been proven in court, there has been enough evidence to suggest that the News of the World may have paid police officers (who would then, by definition, be corrupt), and that it may have been to Mr. Coulson's knowledge, that Mr. Sheridan was released from prison after serving one year, and his conviction is subject to review.

Now, in turn, it is Mr. Coulson who is being investigated for perjury. Whatever the outcome, Wednesday's long drive to Scotland must have been a particular humiliation: Brought low, or even lower, by the words of Mr. Sheridan, a figure almost tailor-made for the tabloid front pages.

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About the Author
International-Affairs Columnist

Doug Saunders writes the Globe and Mail's international-affairs column. He has been a writer with the Globe since 1995, and has extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, having run the Globe's foreign bureaus in Los Angeles and London.He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and educated in Toronto. More

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