Coulson 'Knew About Phone Hacking'

20 May 2015, 17:19

Andy Coulson knew phone-hacking was happening at the News of the World while he was editor, one of the paper's former journalists has told a court.

Clive Goodman, a one-time royal editor at the tabloid, said Coulson did not know at first that voicemails were being accessed to obtain stories but was later made aware of it.

Coulson, 47, the Prime Minister's former director of communications, is on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh accused of lying under oath in the 2010 perjury trial of former Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan.

He denies the charge.

Mr Goodman, giving evidence on day three of the trial, told the court that he first became aware of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire as a contact of his news editor Greg Miskiw.

He said he could "crack seemingly uncrackable stories very quickly".

The witness said he was later told "they had been hacking phones" and was himself given a list of numbers to use to get stories.

Mr Goodman, from Surrey, told the jury: "I would hear messages, voicemail messages."

This was going on in around 2004 and 2005 when Coulson was editor of the newspaper, based in Wapping, east London, he said.

Advocate Depute Richard Goddard, prosecuting, asked him: "Did he know that you were accessing voicemails at that time?"

Mr Goodman said: "Not from me, no."

Asked "did that change in the months ahead?", he replied: "Yes, it did."

The witness said he went to Coulson at the end of October 2005 with a proposal from Mr Mulcaire, who had suggested that for £500 per week Mr Goodman could provide names of people around the Royal Family and he would access their voicemails.

Mr Goddard asked him to tell the court what he remembered about the exchange.

He said he "outlined" the proposal from Mr Mulcaire and "what we might get from it".

When asked what Coulson's reaction was, Mr Goodman said: "He was worried about the cost. We agreed to it on a trial basis and would review after a month."

Mr Goodman, 57, said he handled the "mechanics" of the arrangement himself and sent the money through under the fake name "Alexander".

Mr Goddard asked: "Was he ever worried about the breach of privacy?"

Mr Goodman replied: "That didn't come up."

He said they did not have a conversation about whether it was legal or not, and added: "I didn't know it was illegal."

The witness then told the court the arrangement was extended before it was agreed that payment would be only for "results".

Later, Mr Goddard repeated: "You told us... these (payments) were for a phone-hacking operation that Mr Coulson knew about?"

Mr Goodman replied: "Yes."

Mr Goddard asked: "You told us the exchange took place in the office of Mr Coulson in 2005?"

Mr Goodman replied: "Yes."

The witness said Mr Mulcaire would sometimes appear as "matey" in emails but said lots of people used that name throughout the newspaper.

In an email shown to the jury, dated October 25 2005, Mr Goodman told a member of the newsdesk he had not attended a meeting as he was "updating Andy on a project".

He told the court that he was referring to the "Alexander project".

In an email to Coulson three days later, he wrote: "That new project has started getting results." In another email dated November 25, he asked: "Andy, got a sec on extending the Matey trial pse?"

A reply from Coulson said: "Another month."

Mr Goodman told the court that working at the tabloid became "hyper-competitive" and news editor Ian Edmondson was dismissive of stories he put to him, telling Mr Goodman "if it's not the big story, it's the Big Issue".

Mr Goodman said he was effectively demoted from his position as an assistant editor.

The witness said: "I'd gone from a position of effectively being my own boss to being put into the care of a boss who clearly resented me and rejected everything I came up with."

Asked what would happen if he did not come up with lots of stories during the paper's editorial meeting, he replied: "You'd be torn apart, pretty much, in front of everyone."

Prosecutors allege Coulson falsely stated he did not know about phone-hacking at the News of the World after being sworn in as a defence witness in Mr Sheridan's trial.

He is accused of falsely stating he did not know that Mr Goodman was involved in intercepting voicemail messages before Mr Goodman's arrest on August 8 2006.

Mr Goodman said: "I had a news editor that didn't like me and didn't put my stories through.

"I was under pressure to find new ways of doing things."

Once under way, the "project" started generating stories for the paper, including a report about Prince Harry asking one of his aides to help him with his written work when he was at Sandhurst, he said.

He said it was a good story as "it showed that Harry was not quite sticking to the rules on exams".

In an email from Mr Goodman to Coulson dated December 9 2005, Mr Goodman said some of the information he had for the story may be "too precise to go unnoticed".

In later correspondence between the two, Mr Goodman wrote about the paper's decision to stop "Matey's" weekly payments.

He wrote in an email to Coulson on February 3 2006: "This contact has become increasingly productive in recent weeks. Especially since William started at Sandhurst.

"We are the only paper getting any information out of there at all about his movements and Kate's movements.

"A few weeks ago you asked me to find new ways of getting into the family, especially William and Kate, and I came up with this.

"It's safe, productive and cost-effective and I'm confident it will become a big story goldmine for us if we let it run just a little longer."

An email response from Coulson the same day said: "I'm sorry but it has to go."

The court heard that "Matey" or "Alexander" - which Mr Goodman said referred to Mr Mulcaire - was later paid on the basis of what got published in the paper.

Mr Goodman said the biggest story was "Prince William being drunk at Harry's passing out party and being sent to his room to recover".

The court heard Mr Goodman's home was searched by police on August 8 2006 and he was arrested.

Mr Goddard said: "That marked the end of the Matey or Alexander project?"

The witness said: "Very much so."

Mr Goodman confirmed he and Mr Mulcaire had pleaded guilty to phone-hacking offences in 2006 and that he had been sentenced to four months imprisonment.

Talking about the day he was arrested, he said police came to his home at 6am and took him to the News International office in Wapping before taking him to a police station in central London.

He said police showed him "file after file" of documents, mostly phone records.

"For the first time, I fully realised how Glenn operated. It started to dawn on me just how enormous this all was... I knew I was in real trouble," he said.

The trial, before judge Lord Burns, was adjourned until tomorrow when Mr Goodman will continue giving evidence.