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British PM drags foes into hacking scandal

LONDON -- Prime Minister David Cameron dragged his political foes into the phone-hacking scandal at a raucous session of Parliament yesterday, distancing himself from a former aide at the heart of the allegations and denying his staff tried to thwart police investigations.

Cameron, who flew back from Africa early for the emergency session, defended his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief, saying Coulson's work in government had been untarnished.

Coulson was arrested this month in connection with allegations that reporters at the tabloid intercepted voice mails of celebrities and crime victims to get scoops.

Cameron reminded lawmakers that Coulson has yet to be found guilty of anything. But the prime minister also made his strongest effort yet to distance himself from his former aide.

"With 20/20 hindsight, and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it," Cameron a packed House of Commons. "You live and you learn, and believe you me, I have learnt."

Cameron, leader of Britain's Conservative Party, then turned the spotlight on the Labour Party, saying most British politicians had tried to court media baron Rupert Murdoch -- whose News Corp. owned the defunct News of the World and still owns three other British newspapers.

Murdoch, meanwhile, returned to New York Wednesday.

The prime minister warned that Labour should be careful before casting stones about hiring picks. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications director, Alastair Campbell, was accused of exaggerating government documents in the lead-up to the Iraq War, and the party's former special adviser, Damian McBride, quit amid allegations he circulated scurrilous rumors about political opponents.

Labour was in power when the hacking scandal broke in 2005 over a News of the World story about Prince William's knee injury, information that royal household staff believed could have only come from illegal voice-mail intercepts.

A parliamentary committee investigating the widening scandal released a scathing report yesterday accusing Murdoch companies of "deliberately trying to thwart a criminal investigation" into the allegations and lambasting the Metropolitan Police for its failed inquiry.

"We deplore the response of News International to the original investigation into hacking," said the Home Affairs committee, which has been grilling police officials about their decision not to reopen the hacking investigation in 2009 when other allegations came to light.

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