Phone-hacking trial: 'Careless, not couldn't care less,' Andy Coulson tells jury

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.

    Court: Mr Justice Saunders and lead prosecutor Andrew Edis QC

  • Prosecution: "Phone hacking was all right by you"
  • "Turning" a phone no reference to hacking, Coulson tells court
  • Defendant asked by judge to stop asking questions
  • Denies knowing about payments to police but "didn't interrogate enough"
  • "I accept I was careless but not that I didn't care less," former editor says
  • Phone-hacker "among top five earners at News of the World", jury told
  • When court resumed after lunch, Andrew Edis QC, lead prosecution barrister, continued his cross-examination of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Edis told the court he had a "last point" about the 2004 voicemail interception of then home secretary David Blunkett and asked the witness to confirm "there was no reference to sensitive information" being discussed in the summary given to him at the time. "If that's what you say," Coulson replied. The prosecutor then asked the witness about his contention that he told Thurlbeck to stop the phone-hacking on 21 July 2004 and pointed out that the summary listed intercepts after that date. "I don't remember seeing this document," the defendant replied.

    Edis asked the witness if he accepted that after the Blunkett hack his journalists would have assumed that "phone-hacking was all right by you, they wouldn't get sacked and you would use the information". Coulson disagreed. "They would know by how seriously I took it that it was not acceptable, I don't think I sent that signal," he said. Judge Saunders then intervened and asked: "If a journalist wants to conceal where information came from he would just have to say it came from a source, but on this occasion Thurlbeck admitted he phone-hacked, which could have led to his dismissal?"

    "That's correct," the defendant replied. "It looks like Thurlbeck didn't take this too seriously," Saunders suggested. "He thought he had a public interest defence," Coulson replied, adding: "I felt the chain of events provided me with sufficient reason."

    "Weren't you concerned that other people on the news desk would think they were justified in doing the same thing?" the judge asked. "There was that risk but I felt, rightly or wrongly, it would be brought to the lawyer," Coulson said. "Why didn't you call people together and tell them not to do this is any circumstances?" the judge responded. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had," the defendant said.

    The prosecutor then asked the witness about his recruitment of journalist Dan Evans. "I certainly didn't know he was a phone-hacker," the former editor replied. "Your news desk is hacking David Blunkett and a month later you recruit a phone-hacker," Edis said. "I didn't know about his activities at that point," Coulson replied, describing the meeting he had with Evans as "the briefest of meetings", but agreed "I authorised the recruitment of Dan Evans". "But you have no idea why," Edis remarked.

    The defendant was then asked about the phone-hacking of Fire Brigade Union leader Andy Gilchrist in 2002. "Was he a political target of the News of the World?"

    "Not that I remember, no," Coulson replied. The court then heard that in January 2003, the defendant became editor of the News of the World when Rebekah Brooks moved to the same role at the Sun. The defendant told the court that an email he sent in that month discussing "turning a phone" referred to the practice of getting an address via a mobile phone number, which he said was a phrase "common in the News of the World". "Didn't that involve an invasion of privacy?" Edis asked. "There were, as the court has heard, legal ways of doing that," the former editor told the court, adding that "he never gave it much thought".

    Coulson was then asked about an email from Royal editor Clive Goodman asking for a payment for a serving police officer for a Royal phone directory, the "green book". "I don't remember receiving that email but, as I've said, I didn't believe Clive Goodman was paying a police officer, it was another example of the frustrations of dealing with Clive, I didn't give it enough thought and rubber stamped it, but I should have paid more attention," Coulson said. Edis asked: "You knew he was paying a policeman?"

    "So where is the policeman?" Coulson retorted. "He has been hidden by your corrupt system," the prosecutor replied, leading to Judge Saunders intervening to ask both to stop having a "question and answer session".

    The prosecutor then asked the witness if this email would not "set off an alarm bell" as only a year earlier a journalist at the News of the World had been prosecuted for paying a police officer. "You have seen thousands and thousands of my emails Mr Edis, if I was that kind of journalist you would know about it," Coulson said. The prosecutor showed the court Coulson's reply to the email - "this is fine" - and asked: "What was fine about it?"

    "The amount of money, I suspect," Coulson replied, adding: "I don't think there is any evidence that this was paid to a policeman," leading to Judge Saunders asking again that the defendant not ask questions of the prosecution barrister.

    Edis then put it to Coulson that no matter who was responsible for selling the book "it was a crime". "I don't think from this email you could assume that," Coulson replied. "Shouldn't you have called the police?" the prosecutor asked. "I think they would have thought I was wasting their time," the former editor responded.

    The former editor was then asked about the annual News of the World budget documents and asked if he had noticed that Glenn Mulcaire's company, Nine Consultancy, was receiving £105,000 a year. "It's a lot of money but not in terms of the News of the World's budget of £33m," Coulson said. The defendant told the court that one of the issues he would be thinking about on the 2005 budget was the launch of a new magazine containing TV listings, "a very expensive change".

    The prosecutor then asked about another email sent to Coulson about Prince Harry being injured, which stated in part: "The health inf is from the doc himself and has been scanned from Helen Asbury." Coulson told the court he did not recall the email but may have imagined it was "tricked" from Asbury in some way. He added: "I don't know, it's too long ago."

    "By this time you know all about phone-hacking, you'd run the Blunkett story months before, didn't you think to ask?" Edis said. "I clearly didn't apply my mind to it but I clearly didn't think Goodman was hacking phones," Coulson replied.

    Edis then put it to the former editor: "There was a series of loud clanging bells, why didn't you take notice? Is the explanation that you didn't care less or that you were slapdash and careless?"

    "I accept I was careless but not that I didn't care less," Coulson said. Judge Saunders then asked about the Prince Harry story. "Didn't it bother you that you were publishing private medical information?"

    "It would have been seen by the lawyers," Coulson replied. The defendant was then given a copy of the story to look at and told the court: "It is health information but not of the most serious nature and it looks like from the story that Harry was telling people about it."

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, they were shown a 2005 email from a journalist we cannot name, in which he asked that "the payment to Greg's [Miskiw] investigation man of £100,000 a year has to stop, I've spoken about this a million times". "I was only copied in to this email," Coulson replied, and said he was unaware of any "row" about the issue. "What possible justification could there be for that?" Edis asked. "I wasn't aware of it," the defendant replied. "You were being made aware of it here," the prosecutor said. "I was aware Greg had an investigations man, it didn't ring any alarm bells for me." Coulson responded.

    Four days later, the court was told, an email to Coulson from Goodman mentioned that "Paddy's [Harmison] voicemail may be getting hacked". "Did you make any inquiry about what he was talking about?" Edis asked. "I said earlier," Coulson replied, "the word hacking was not in my vocabulary at that time."

    "It must have meant something to you," the prosecutor said. "I may have thought he was going to ring Paddy and ask him," the defendant said. "It's possible I may not have read the last part," he added.

    The former editor was then asked about another 2005 email which contained a proposal to cut Mulcaire's Nine Consultancy payment by 50 per cent. "Surely you would have to have an idea what they did?" the prosecutor asked. "I don't think I was engaged with it," Coulson replied. "He kept on getting his money though, why?" Edis asked. "I don't know," the defendant replied, saying: "As long as departments were within their budgets it was nothing to do with me, these items pale in insignificance against a £15m marketing budget."

    The court was then shown an email from Clive Goodman discussing the Queen's worries about police stealing bowls of nibbles from Buckingham palace. "I may be losing my touch but I didn't see it as much of a story," Coulson said, telling the court he did not recall it. "It might make less headlines today," Judge Saunders remarked. The defendant was asked about another email from Goodman asking for a £1,000 payment to "one of our palace cops". "I didn't believe then and I don't believe now that Goodman was paying a police officer," Coulson replied, and described his one word reply "fine" as evidence he might not have read the whole email. "If you read this Mr Coulson, it's absolutely plain as a pikestaff," Edis suggested. "All I can say is that it's the truth," the defendant replied.

    The defendant was then asked about a Saturday in July 2005 when "three things were going on at the same time". Charles Clarke, the then home secretary, Edis suggested, had his special adviser's phone being hacked, she was being watched by the News of the World and Coulson was calling her up. "You were trying to do to this home secretary what you did to the previous one," Edis suggested. The former editor said he was probably calling about a story on Ronnie Biggs, one of the great train robbers, and a suggestion he was going to be released. The prosecutor suggested that Coulson would already have known this was not going to happen, "but you don't remember?"

    "I spoke to politicians all the time," the defendant replied. A phone than rang in court and Judge Saunders suggested court end then, however someone pointed out that the jury had agreed to stay until 5pm due to this morning's late start.

    Edis then put it to the witness that the £105,000 paid to phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire put him among the "top five earners at the paper". The former editor replied that a "famous left back" earned more for a column he had no input to. The prosecutor asked if the method of paying Mulcaire on a weekly basis was an attempt to "conceal" the payments. "I have no knowledge of that," Coulson replied, adding that his recollection was that employing Mulcaire's company was a "method of saving money", suggesting he may have been told this by managing editor Stuart Kuttner. "It may come as a surprise to people that an editor is not interested in every budget decision but this editor wasn't," Coulson told the jury, adding that he would be involved when a high profile writer might be dropped, giving the example of cutting Michael Winner's column.

    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

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