Phone-hacking trial: Denials, Dowler and affairs of the heart

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, the prime minister's former director of communications Andy Coulson and six others began at the Old Bailey on 28 October. The Drum will be in court for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last at least four months, and will provide comprehensive updates on this blog.

The trial is scheduled to examine seven counts that include conspiracy to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Coverage will be provided by James Doleman, who was acclaimed for his exhaustive and responsible reporting of the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

  • Coulson received £600,000 when he resigned from News International
  • Affair with Rebekah Brooks lasted from 2004 until 2007
  • "Do you remember editing a newspaper?" prosecutor asks
  • Former editor quizzed on Milly Dowler "voicemail story"
  • Denies he "turned a blind eye" to hacking
  • Proceedings resumed at court 12 of London's central criminal court this morning to hear further cross-examination of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who is facing charges of conspiring to illegally intercept communications and commit misconduct in a public office. David Spens QC, acting for former News of the World Royal correspondent Clive Goodman, began the final part of his questioning by asking the defendant about his actions after Goodman was arrested and pleaded guilty to phone-hacking in 2006. Coulson told the court that he decided to resign over the Christmas holiday and denied Spens' suggestion that he did so to avoid answering questions from the Press Complaints Commission.

    The jury was shown an email from Coulson to a News International executive, who we cannot name for legal reasons, in which he wrote: "If my resignation is to play out in the way we both hope, our discussions will have to remain secret." The barrister asked if the reason for the secrecy was to avoid Goodman finding out about the resignation before his sentencing hearing. "That was not in my mind," Coulson replied. The defendant agreed that he had told Goodman it was his "intention" that he be kept on at the News of the World but denied that amounted to a "cast iron promise". Goodman was, the court was told, dismissed after being sentenced to four months in prison, which Coulson said was "a surprise". The former editor told the court he received three years salary when he himself resigned, £600,000.

    Andrew Edis QC, the lead prosecutor then rose to cross-examine the witness, beginning with the former editor's relationship with Rebekah Brooks, and asked about a letter written by Brooks but not sent in which she said: "I've been waiting six years for you to make up your mind."

    "I don't think that is entirely accurate," Coulson replied, saying their intimate relationship began in 1998, ended shortly after but restarted in 2004 until "around the time I left the News of the World". The former editor agreed that he and Brooks had a close working relationship and "worked as a team" on the big decisions.

    The prosecutor then asked about the appointment of Greg Miskiw as "investigations editor" at the News of the World. "I wasn't a massive fan," Coulson said, adding that "the investigations unit never fired on all cylinders". The defendant was then asked if "everyone at the News of the World knew paying policemen was unacceptable, any suggestion that anyone was doing that would have set off loud alarm bells". "It should have done," Coulson replied.

    The prosecutor then moved on to a 2002 story about missing teenager Milly Dowler and asked the witness if he was the person who changed the story between the first and third editions. "I take responsibility for it," Coulson said. "Does that mean you did it?" Edis asked. "I was aware of the story but that does not mean I was aware of the precise content of it," Coulson replied. The editor was then asked: "Can we work on the basis that you read the story?"

    "I can't say I did because I don't remember it," Coulson said. "Do you accept that part of editing a newspaper is reading it?" Edis asked. "I don't know if I read it," the defendant replied. "Do you remember editing a newspaper?" the prosecutor said.

    The prosecutor then moved on to the contract between phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire and the News of the World. "You authorised the payments," Edis suggested. "I inherited that contract," Coulson replied. "You say you have an innocent explanation for all of these things, did you tell the police it?" Edis asked. "I gave a no comment interview on legal advice," the defendant replied. Edis put it to the witness: "You are a powerful and intelligent man; well, you were powerful, but you are still intelligent," adding: "You are not the sort to meekly accept legal advice." Coulson responded: "I am not a lawyer." Edis then asked Coulson why he answered no comment to every police question when he was interviewed. "It was a disastrous course wasn't it? Given you had such a lot to say, why not say it?" Edis asked. "It was a very traumatic time," the defendant replied but agreed he had been responsible for deciding not to answer questions. "You decided not to tell them about the Alexander payments, the Milly Dowler story and the Blunkett hack hoping they would never be able to prove it." "I don't accept that," Coulson replied. The defendant was then asked if he spoke to Rebekah Brooks before he was arrested in July 2011. "I don't remember, I may have," Coulson replied.

    The prosecutor then asked Coulson about his desk diaries from his time at News International. "They are with my solicitor," the defendant replied. Edis asked why the police found no documents from his time at News International when they searched his house. "Reporters take notes, we've seen them doing it for months, where are your notes from when you were editor and deputy editor of the News of the World, Mr Coulson?" Edis asked. The defendant told the court these had been looked after by his PA at her home after his resignation "for a couple of weeks" and he had then visited her and "thrown away a lot of things". "As far as we know there is not a single note in existence on any of the things we have been asking you about this morning," Edis noted. "I have done nothing improper," Coulson said, adding: "I have never been a big note-taker."

    The jury were then given a copy of an email from 25 November 2006 in which Coulson asked his PA to "discretely" print off his draft emails. The defendant said he used this to store personal materials and Edis suggested "this was a good place to store secret things". "There were some things there that were sentimental," the defendant said, telling the court the printed emails were now with a solicitor he engaged after his resignation from Downing Street. The court was then shown one of these draft emails, which related to a briefing Coulson was supposed to give to a News International lawyer about "the dangers of the dark arts".

    "What did you mean by the 'dark arts'?" Edis asked. "Investigative techniques," Coulson replied. "Those are legal," the prosecutor suggested, "why do you need the euphemism?"

    "It's a well worn phrase in newspapers," Coulson replied, but told the court he did not recall if he gave the briefing or not.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, the lead prosecutor turned to the issue of how a Sunday paper is put together, asking the former editor to confirm that the "furniture" of the paper is done first. "There is very little breaking news in the gardening column," Coulson confirmed. The barrister then turned to the 2002 edition of the paper containing the Milly Dower "voicemail story" which the defendant edited as Rebekah Brooks was on holiday. "You'd be very keen to get it right," Edis suggested, asking the witness if "phone-hacking would be a very good thing to make sure that a story was true". "I didn't approve of phone-hacking," Coulson replied.

    The prosecutor then showed the jury the front page of that issue which led with a piece about an actor, Michael Greco, leaving the BBC soap opera EastEnders. "Not a particularly mind blowing story," Edis suggested, and the witness agreed that if the paper had found Milly Dowler that would have been the front page that week. The prosecutor put it to the witness that there were 11 people working on the Milly Dowler story which, Edis suggested, "could not have happened without you knowing about it". "It was not my job to track the movement of reporters, especially regional reporters," the defendant replied, adding that he thought the idea that 13-year-old Dowler was working in a factory was "nonsense". Edis said: "If a reporter told you about the story you would say it's nonsense and he would surely reply 'no it's true boss, we've heard the voicemails'." The former editor said he could not recall at this distance of time the exact conversation.

    The jury was then shown the first edition of the News of the World containing the Milly Dowler story, which the prosecutor pointed out occupied the whole of page nine. "That's an important part of the paper?" Edis asked. "It is, yes," Coulson replied. The barrister asked the witness if he knew who wrote the story. " I don't know," the defendant replied, although he agreed: "I may have been involved in the decision process."

    "So the story you thought was a load of rubbish is taking up the whole of your page nine?" Edis asked. "I thought it was weak," the former editor responded, adding: "I know you think reading the News of the World is a five-minute exercise, editing it is not." The prosecutor then went through the changes made to this issue between the first and third editions, noting that the Milly Dowler story had been moved to page 30 and all mentions of voicemail quotes had been removed. "I believe we moved it to improve the mix of the paper," Coulson replied. "The whole purpose was to get a skimpily dressed young woman on page 11?" Edis asked. "Yes," the defendant replied.

    The prosecutor then asked the witness if he spoke to Rebekah Brooks, who was in holiday in Dubai that week, about the "missing Surrey schoolgirl". "Not that I remember," Coulson replied. "I wouldn't have been minded to ring Rebekah about every decision."

    Coulson was then asked if he had told Brooks about the changes to the Milly Dowler story when she returned from Dubai. "Not necessarily," the defendant replied. "You would assume she would have read the paper," he said. The former editor was asked about another Dowler story mentioned on the news schedule called "SA Milly". He told the court that at this distance he could not be sure but believed it may have been held over until the next weekend. Coulson was then asked if he was told Stuart Kuttner had called Surrey police to discuss the Dowler voicemails. "Not that I remember," he replied.

    Edis then asked the witness about a 2002 football article in the News of the World that mentioned that phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire worked for the paper's investigations department. It wasn't a very important story, Coulson replied, and he said he had not seen the story and in the paper. "We tended to talk about the big stories, the big clubs," he said, adding: "That was the least interesting sports story of the week, I'm not interested in Wimbledon."

    "You were interested in the News of the World," Edis suggested "and here was a story about someone you didn't know worked for the paper who also played football."

    "I didn't see it," the former editor said. "Did you know that his nickname was 'Trigger'?" Edis asked. "No," Coulson replied.

    The defendant was then asked about a phone call he received in July 2004 from reporter Neville Thurlbeck, who told him he had voicemails from then Home Secretary David Blunkett. Coulson repeated his earlier testimony that he was "shocked" and told the journalist to "stop the investigation" as it was a "clear breach of privacy". Blunkett, the defendant added, "was close to the paper and close to my boss". Edis said: "Publishing stories about people having affairs is always a breach of privacy, but you didn't ask any other questions at all?"

    "I may have done, but don't remember doing so," Coulson said. Edis asked: "If he had called you and said he had robbed a bank would you just have told him to stop?"

    "That's what I did," Coulson replied, saying he "assumed he was doing it himself."

    "There was only one reason you would not have asked him where he got the voicemails, Mr Coulson, that's because you already knew." Edis said. "I asked no questions, I accept that, it was a failure on my part," Coulson replied, but denied he "turned a blind eye" as "that would have required some knowledge".

    Court then rose for the day

    All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues.

    Click here to view more posts from The Drum's daily phone-hacking trial coverage straight from the Old Bailey

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