Andy Coulson’s former deputy told The Drum today that the continued incarceration of his friend in Belmarsh high security prison was “simply farcical”.
Neil Wallis, who worked alongside the former government director of communications at the News of the World, said: “Why is a white collar offender, a middle aged man who is no threat to anyone occupying a high security prison cell? It simply isn’t necessary."
People sentenced to prison in England and Wales are assessed and assigned one of four classifications based on their age and the offence for which they have been convicted.
These range from category A, prisoners who are considered 'highly dangerous to the public or national security', to category D, offenders who are judged to be no threat to the public and unlikely to try and escape.
Despite the fact Coulson, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail for the illegal interception of communications, has been in prison for over six weeks he remains uncategorised so is being treated as a category A inmate despite his crime being of a non-violent nature.
Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist and author of the book 'Hack Attack', told The Drum: "It seems wrong to me that he’s still in Belmarsh - it’s a waste of a high-security prison place, and unfair on him.
"I know he was pretty cruel to people who were targeted by his journalists, but that isn’t a reason to return the cruelty."
Davies also showed The Drum a copy of a letter, sent by the presiding judge at the phone-hacking trial Mr Justice Saunders, to the governor of Belmarsh, advising him that he had no requirement for Coulson to be held at a nearby court as any retrial of the former editor on charges of corrupting public officials would not take place until December 2014 at the earliest.
However, Dr Evan Harris, associate director of press reform group Hacked Off, told The Drum that he believed the controversy of Coulson’s status was overdone, commenting that while his group had no “personal animus” against those convicted of phone-hacking it was important that justice takes it course.
Harris said: “Criminals must be kept where the penal system judges best. It seems that it takes the case of Andy Coulson’s incarceration to make some tabloid journalists accept that prisons are not cushy, that some prisoners are indeed suitable for open prisons, and that time off for good behaviour is not a liberal lefty plot to overthrow all that is noble."
Coulson’s status means that he is confined to his cell for 22 hours a day and any visitors, including family members, face being questioned and strip searched for contraband.
Wallis told us: “The authorities should reflect that he is not a murderer or a rapist” adding, "it reveals them in their true colours, If this was an accountant on fraud charges he would have been in an open prison weeks ago."
The Ministry of Justice was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.