Media

Phone-hacking trial: Guardian 'totally wrong' on Milly Dowler story, court hears

By James Doleman |

May 29, 2014 | 10 min read

  • Defence: no "cover up" of phone-hacking at News International
  • Clive Goodman "motivated to gain revenge"
  • Guardian story on Milly Dowler "totally wrong"
  • "Widespread belief" phone-hacking legal if in public interest
  • Coulson set up school over "dangers of dark arts", jury told
  • Proceedings resumed this morning to hear further closing argument from Timothy Langdale QC, counsel for former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who is charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept communications and commit misconduct in a public office. The defence barrister resumed were he left off yesterday, with former News of the World Royal editor Clive Goodman's testimony that there was a "cover up" of the extent of phone-hacking at the newspaper after the first arrests were made in 2006.

    Langdale asked the jury to consider that in all of the conversations between Coulson and Goodman, which the Royal editor secretly recorded, there was no attempt by the former journalist to get Coulson to agree he knew about phone-hacking. "As you have seen in this trial he is perfectly capable of subterfuge, but there is not a hint of it, not a single attempt," the barrister said.

    Evidence: Milly Dowler

    The defence QC then turned to the question of the legal advice Goodman received after he had been charged with voicemail interception. David Spens QC, the former Royal editor's barrister, suggested in his closing speech that the lawyers, who were paid by News International, were more interested in protecting the company than his client. "There was nothing sinister," Langdale said, and noted that in various notes of legal meetings there was no mention by Goodman that others were involved. The involvement of a News International legal adviser at meetings about Goodman's case was, Langdale said, "entirely proper" as the company clearly had an interest in the outcome especially in relation to "proper media reporting and limiting damaging press reports, it is not sinister, it's Andy Coulson being a responsible executive". The then editor, the barrister continued, had not at that time been "informed or briefed" that others had been involved in phone-hacking.

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    The defence QC asked the jury to consider that the concern at News International was that Goodman, facing a possible prison sentence, would make "false allegations, exactly as we have seen him do in this case". Langdale agreed that Goodman did tell the probation service that his "senior editor had given tacit approval" to his phone-hacking but argued that the term senior editor would not be a reference to Coulson, whose job title was simply editor. Counsel then asked the jury to consider that Goodman was bitter after having served time in prison and was "motivated by a desire to gain revenge for his inappropriate treatment by the News of the World".

    Langdale then asked the jury to consider the real role of a newspaper editor, suggesting to the jury that the prosecution had painted a "false picture". "The editor has the final say," the barrister continued, but "does not need to know how many reporters are being deployed or what inquiry agents are used." He added: "Free CDs and DVDs are the editor's concern too, it's not all journalism." On the issue of budgets, counsel told the jury that phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire's payment of £100,000 a year was a "lot of money" but compared to the paper's overall budget of £36m it was a small sum and "it is less than the annual fees paid to an astrologer and left back whose identity has been so carefully concealed". The barrister suggested that there would be no reason for Coulson to question this further than whether it was for "investigatory work". "Why should he?" Langdale asked.

    The barrister then moved on to the issue of the hacking of the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2002. The prosecution has suggested that an article in the News of the World that quoted voicemails left on Dowler's phone proves that Coulson, who was editing the paper that weekend, must have known about the voicemail interception. Langdale told the court that the 2011 Guardian article that alleged that hacker Glenn Mulcaire had deleted messages left on Dowler's phone was "totally wrong" and this had "serious consequences", including the closure of the News of the World.

    Langdale said that nothing in the article suggested that Dowler's voicemail had been hacked, as it had been checked by lawyers and appeared to have came from a police source. "There was nothing sinister or covert" about the article being changed and moved to a different page by Coulson, he said, and added that as the police had already been told about the voicemails by Stuart Kuttner "it was out in the open, there would have been no comeback from the Surrey police". Langdale asked: "Why should he seek to hide the story?" The barrister told the court that the story was only moved to "improve the look and feel of the paper" and this had most likely been done by then news editor Neville Thurlbeck. Langdale went on to describe telephone contact between Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, who was on holiday in Dubai, as "perfectly normal" and said there was nothing "sinister about them". "There was no reason, as acting editor, for Andy Coulson to know reporters had been dispatched to Telford," he added.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, the defence barrister turned to the 2004 hacking of voicemails left by then home secretary David Blunkett on the phone of Kimberley Quinn. "The News of the World had a hard won reputation as an investigative newspaper" which, the barrister said, sometimes led them to "take difficult decisions to break the law", giving the example of taking weapons on aircraft to expose lapses in airport security. Langdale asked the jury to consider that the prosecution agreed that it was possible the defendants did not know phone-hacking was a criminal offence if done in the public interest. "There was a widespread belief that it was not, until the August 2006 arrest of Clive Goodman."

    Langdale then moved on to discuss what was meant by the "public interest", stating it was not "what the public was interested in" but could include exposing hypocrisy. "It is a judgement call from the editor," he said. The barrister told the jury that they may not agree with the judgement Coulson made over the Blunkett story and he had testified that, in hindsight, he had made a mistake having been "led astray" by the paper's close relationship with Blunkett and had not included the public interest element of the story in the final article, adding: "Not many people in this case have been willing to admit a mistake, Andy Coulson has." The barrister noted that a News International lawyer, who we cannot name for legal reasons, had passed the story. "Knowing about hacking is not enough to make you part of a criminal conspiracy, you have to agree with it," he said, which is why the lawyer had not been charged.

    Langdale went on to say that the Blunkett hack admission has been "hung like an albatross round Andy Coulson's neck" but if the prosecution had been able to disprove Coulson's account "we would have heard about". The QC suggested to the jury that his client's account that he had ordered the hacking to stop was accurate but he had considered the "public interest arguments" and decided to see if he "could make the story work at some level" as Blunkett had been telling Quinn about terrorist arrests. Langdale said that Coulson "lost his way" in part due to Blunkett's close relationship with the paper, and one of it's senior executives in particular.

    The defence barrister asked the jury to consider that the evidence showed only that Coulson knew about this single episode of hacking and this did not mean he knew about hacking in general. Langdale also denied prosecution suggestions that nothing was done to prevent future hacking, pointing to the setting up of the "school of excellence" partly to discuss the "dangers of the dark arts". Langdale asked the jury to accept that "if even the office cat knew about hacking there would be no need for the training".

    Langdale then asked the jury to recall the evidence around Sally Anderson "which was the only time messages were played to you, no doubt for their emotional impact". The defence barrister agreed that it was wrong that Anderson's phone had been hacked but the person who had breached Blunkett's privacy was Anderson herself. "Check the cuttings, perhaps an obvious term in journalism but apparently not in police work," he said, telling the jury that if they did they would find a Daily Mail story that showed that Anderson was leaking information to the press.

    The defence barrister then moved on to the hacking of Hannah Pawlby, a special advisor to then home secretary Charles Clarke. Langdale pointed out that a message left by Coulson on her phone had never been picked up as it had been hacked by Glenn Mulciare. "If, as the prosecution allege, he knew about hacking would he not have said not to hack that phone so the message would have got through?"

    Court then rose for lunch.

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

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