LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron dragged his political foes into Britain's phone-hacking scandal Wednesday, as he sought to distance himself from his former aide at the heart of the allegations and denied that his staff had tried to thwart police investigations.
Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, who flew back from Africa early to address the emergency session of Parliament, defended his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief, saying his work in government had been untarnished.
Coulson was arrested this month in connection with the tabloid's alleged practice of intercepting the voicemails of celebrities and crime victims to get scoops. Cameron reminded lawmakers Wednesday that Coulson has yet to be found guilty of anything.
But the prime minister also sought to put some distance between him and Coulson.
"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 told lawmakers who packed the House of Commons for the special address. "You live and you learn, and believe you me, I have learnt."
Cameron then dragged Labour Party officials into the spotlight, saying that most British politicians had tried to court media baron Rupert Murdoch — whose News Corp. owned the now-defunct News of the World and several other British newspapers.
The prime minister added that Labour should be careful before casting stones about hiring choices. Labour's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell was accused of exaggerating government documents in the lead-up of the Iraq war, and the party's former special adviser Damien McBride quit amid allegations he circulated scurrilous rumors about political opponents.
Labour was in power when the phone 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 voicemail intercepts. The scandal has since embroiled top politicians, police and journalists in Britain.