Phone-hacking trial: Coulson admits telling 'deliberate untruth' over hacked Blunkett voicemail story

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.

    Trial: Andy Coulson arriving at court this morning

  • Coulson repeats claim he didn't know that phone-hacking was illegal
  • Accepts "mistakes" over 2004 David Blunkett/Kimberley Quinn story
  • Defendant challenged by judge over "disingenuous" answer
  • News International executive and legal adviser knew about voicemail tapes
  • Denies informing Rebekah Brooks about Blunkett story
  • Proceedings resumed this morning at court 12 of London's historic Old Bailey to hear further cross-examination of former News of the World editor and government director of communications Andy Coulson on charges of conspiring to illegally intercept voicemails and commit misconduct in a public office.

    Andrew Edis QC, the chief prosecution barrister, opened the day by asking Coulson about his admission that he had been told in 2004 by a senior journalist, Neville Thurlbeck, that he had in his possession voicemails from then Home Secretary David Blunkett. The former editor told the court that he did not agree with Thurlbeck's justification for the hacking which was that Blunkett, a Labour politician, was involved with the editor of the Conservative-leaning Spectator magazine, and he had told the reporter to "stop his investigation". "Did you do that because it was illegal?" Edis asked. "I didn't know phone-hacking was illegal until Clive Goodman was arrested," the defendant told the court.

    The prosecution barrister suggested to Coulson that he took no action at this time "because you knew that Glenn Mulcaire was hacking phones". "I didn't know Glenn Mulcaire's name," Coulson replied. "But you knew Greg [Miskiw] had a man?" the prosecutor replied. Edis asked: "When did you find out Mulcaire had someone who helped him with these investigations?"

    "That's too vague a question," the former editor responded, adding: "I cannot place a time when I knew Greg Miskiw had a man who worked in investigations."

    The defendant was then asked about a subsequent meeting he had with Thurlbeck to discuss the Blunkett voicemail tapes. "What was the point of the meeting?" Edis asked. "So Thurlbeck could re-pitch the story," Coulson responded, telling the court that the new justification for the story was that "Blunkett was distracted and giving away information he shouldn't have", adding: "He was giving information about terrorism." Edis asked the defendant why neither of these points made the final story. "That was my thinking," Coulson replied, adding: "I think the story was in the public interest and the rest of Fleet Street agreed."

    "This public interest stuff is just an invention," Edis said. "If terrorism was the justification, why is it not in the story?" "I made a mistake," Coulson replied. "I took a different path and I absolutely accept I made a mistake."

    Coulson was then asked about his actions over the Blunkett hack, with Edis putting it to him: "Whether it was legal, illegal, it didn't matter"

    "I don't accept that," the defendant replied. The former editor said he did not remember reading any articles about phone-hacking. "You read what you are interested in and I wasn't interested in it, or I may have read about it and forgotten," he said. Edis put it to the witness: "Actually, what you thought Mr Coulson, is that will make a cracking front page."

    "I thought it was a story," the defendant replied, agreeing that he had found out Blunkett and Kimberley Quinn were meeting the next week and he had arranged for the meeting place to be watched and have a photographer present. "Everyone knows now the story was 200 per cent correct but I had to stand it up," Coulson told the court, saying "we needed another source" which was, the former editor said, Huw Evans, a special advisor to Blunkett. "Mr Evans stood the story up, he's effectively quoted in the story," he added.

    The prosecutor suggested to Coulson that as he had heard the voicemails "you knew the story was true" and asked the former editor about his meeting with Blunkett at his constituency office. "I had to go to Sheffield of all places," the defendant remarked, adding: "I didn't take possession of any tapes, they ended up in the lawyer's safe without me being involved."

    "When did you discover they were there?" Edis asked "When this case started I think," Coulson responded. The prosecutor asked: "When Clive Goodman was arrested in 2006 did you not mention 'hold on we have those tapes of when Neville did this in 2004'?"

    "I don't remember that," Coulson replied, but confirmed he had spoken to a News International legal adviser, who we cannot name for legal reasons, about the Blunkett tapes in 2004 and the adviser's main concern was Kimberly Quinn's taking out an injunction for privacy reasons.

    The former editor was asked by the prosecution barrister if he was therefore "lying" when he told Blunkett he knew the story about Quinn was true. "I accept I was being disingenuous," Coulson replied, to which Edis responded: "Why not use the clear term 'lying'?"

    "I prefer the term disingenuous," the defendant responded, leading to Judge Saunders intervening and asking: "Were you telling a deliberate untruth?" After a pause, Coulson replied,"yes" and agreed he was responsible for the decision to hide the fact that the origin of the story was intercepted voicemail traffic.

    Coulson was then asked who else at the News of the World knew about the Blunkett voicemail tapes. "I know this is important but I don't want to get it wrong," he said, but named a News International legal adviser and an executive as having been present at the discussions. The jury was then shown a partial schedule of telephone contacts between Coulson and others from July 2004. The defendant agreed that he had called a senior journalist about the tapes and therefore he must have also been aware of the issue. The former editor was asked if he asked Thurlbeck to "carry on hacking?"

    "No," Coulson replied. "So you were going to exploit it and not repeat it," Edis suggested.

    The former editor was then asked about a large number of text messages he sent to Rebekah Brooks on the Friday he went to Sheffield to meet with Blunkett. "I agree there was a text conversation," the defendant replied. "Did you tell her where you were?" the prosecutor asked. "I don't believe so," Coulson replied. "Are you telling us that the woman who wrote that letter would spoil your relationship for a story?"

    "There were clear lines," the defendant replied. "We were rival editors," he said, adding: "I knew that Rebekah was good friends with David Blunkett, closer friends than I was."

    Court then rose for lunch.

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

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