Police are facing calls for a full inquiry into alleged phone hacking at the News of the World following the resignation of the paper’s former editor, Andy Coulson, as Downing Street communications chief.
In a personal statement, Mr Coulson said that the drip-drip of claims about illegal eavesdropping under his editorship meant he could not “give the 110% needed”.
“I stand by what I’ve said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman it’s time to move on,” he added.
The Prime Minister said he was “very sorry” Mr Coulson felt “compelled” to go after months of intense pressure, insisting he was being “punished for the same offence twice”.
However Labour frontbencher Chris Bryant said he hoped the Metropolitan Police would now conduct a thorough investigation into the phone hacking.
“To say this is long overdue is an understatement. Andy Coulson should never have been appointed in the first place,” he said. “I hope now finally that the police will be able to conduct the full, transparent, and thorough inquiry into phone hacking that we are still waiting for and that the murky truth will come to light.”
It is understood Mr Coulson informed the Prime Minister of his intention to leave on Wednesday evening. No decision has yet been taken on a replacement.
Mr Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 after the paper’s former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for phone hacking.
Although he accepted ultimate responsibility for the illegal activities, he has always denied knowing they were taking place. A Scotland Yard investigation resulted in no further charges. But a number of public figures are still taking civil legal action against the newspaper, and documents disclosed in those cases have sparked fresh developments.
It emerged earlier this month that News of the World executive Ian Edmondson has been suspended as a result of claims in a case brought by actress Sienna Miller. Police subsequently wrote to the newspaper asking for any new evidence staff had on the case.