LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday he was wrong to hire Andy Coulson as his media chief in 2007 after Coulson, an ex-editor of a Rupert Murdoch tabloid, was found guilty of being part of a phone-hacking conspiracy.
Political opponents have long questioned Cameron's judgment in hiring Coulson who resigned the editorship of Murdoch's now defunct News of the World newspaper when two of its employees were jailed for phone-hacking before Cameron hired him.
The Coulson verdict threatens to damage Conservative leader Cameron's reputation ahead of a national election next year with the opposition Labour party saying it shows the prime minister's judgment is flawed.
In a clip to British TV recorded less than two hours after the verdict was announced, Cameron tried to limit the damage to his image by making a swift unambiguous apology.
"I'm extremely sorry that I employed him, it was the wrong decision," Cameron said of Coulson, saying he was making a "full and frank" apology for hiring him.
"I asked him questions about if he knew about phone hacking and he said that he didn't and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job," said Cameron.
Coulson, 46, ran the British leader's media operations from 2007 until 2011. Cameron said he had given Coulson a second chance after the ex-editor's media career had ended, something he said he now realised was a bad decision.
Coulson denied wrongdoing before and after Cameron hired him. During the trial, Coulson said he had been aware of one hacking incident, but that staff had kept the widespread criminal activity from him.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said in 2011 it was "a catastrophic error of judgment" for Cameron to have hired Coulson. On Tuesday, Ben Bradshaw, a Labour lawmaker and former cabinet minister, wrote on social networking site Twitter that the Coulson verdict was "another damning indictment of Cameron's terrible, terrible judgement."
Some of Cameron's allies at the time warned him against collaborating with Coulson as lurid news stories about the tabloid newspaper he used to run circulated, but Cameron chose not to heed their warnings.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and William James; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Osborn