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British PM Cameron's ex-media chief knew of phone-hacking

  • Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives at the Old Bailey courthouse in London January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief Andy Coulson listened to a hacked voicemail that revealed two leading actors were having an affair when he was editor of the News of the World, a London court heard on Tuesday.

Dan Evans, a former reporter and self-confessed prolific phone hacker on the Rupert Murdoch tabloid, said Coulson was one of 10 senior figures on the paper who knew how he intercepted voicemails to generate front page stories.

Coulson, editor of the now defunct tabloid until 2007 and then Cameron's head of communications up to early 2011, has denied any knowledge of phone-hacking and says he could not be expected to know the source of every story in his paper.

Cameron, who faced questions over his own judgement in appointing Coulson when the paper was shut in July 2011, has said he would make a "profound apology" if it turned out his former spokesman had lied.

The 38-year-old Evans has admitted conspiring to intercept voicemails. On Tuesday he took to the stand at London's Old Bailey court for a second day to detail his methods.

He said that on one occasion in October 2005 he had played a hacked recording of a voicemail to his then editor Coulson and other senior figures on the paper which had been left by the actress Sienna Miller for James Bond actor Daniel Craig.

"Andy came over wanting to hear the tape. I played the tape a couple of times and they listened to it," Evans told the court. "Andy became very animated."

Another journalist who was present took Evans by the arm and said: "You are a company man now".

The voicemail revealed that Miller, then girlfriend of another British actor, Jude Law, who gave evidence on Monday, was having an affair with Craig.

"I heard a female voice saying 'Hi, it's me, I can't speak, I'm at the Groucho (club) with Jude. I love you,'" Evans said.

He told the jury that having heard the recording, Coulson came up with an elaborate plan to mask how the reporters had come across the tape.

That included having a copy of the recording made, placed into a bag and dropped at the gates of the News Corp site in Wapping, to be picked up by security. That would enable the reporters to pretend it had been dropped off by an anonymous source when it later arrived back in the newsroom.

The story of the Craig hacking was just one of many revealed in court.

Other targets included the former England soccer manager Steve McClaren, actor Robbie Coltrane and the personal assistant of model Kate Moss. The agent for the current England soccer captain Steven Gerrard was also a target.

In further dramatic testimony, Evans said the hacking had stopped after police arrested the tabloid's royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2006.

" Glenn Mulcaire had been lifted, everyone was on tenterhooks. There was a lot of fear and anxiety, a lot of people were preparing to cover their tracks," he told the court.

For his own part, he destroyed notebooks and the many tape recordings of voicemails that were stacked on his desk and stuffed in drawers. He said he ripped out the ribbon from tapes just feet away from the executives' glass conference room.

"It was a purge basically," he added.

But Evans said he returned to his hacking ways in 2009 to try to access the phone of interior designer Kelly Hoppen who was suspected of having an affair with pop star Madonna's ex-husband, film director Guy Ritchie.

"Curiosity killed this particular cat," he said, adding that Hoppen had stepped up the security around her phone and was alerted to the attempted hack. With a court order she was able to trace the source as Evans' number.

Evans said that part of the driving force behind the hacking had been the constant pressure to get exclusives.

"If you don't come up with a front page story you might as well jump off a cliff," he said one journalist had told him in an email. He said the same journalist said to his face: "As far as I'm concerned your USP (unique selling point) is the phones, intercepting voicemails ... I suggest you fucking well get on with some more."

He said his response was indeed to hack even more.

"I did everything I could to make sure I came back with a story. I hacked every phone I could possibly think of hacking," he told the court.

Evans, who admitted in court a history of drug-taking, is the fourth journalist from the News of the World to have admitted phone-hacking charges. Coulson has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to intercept voicemails and authorising illegal payments to public officials.

Six others, including Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Murdoch's British newspaper arm, are also on trial and deny all charges.

 
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Summary

British Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief Andy Coulson listened to a hacked voicemail that revealed two leading actors were having an affair when he was editor of the News of the World, a London court heard on Tuesday.

Dan Evans, a former reporter and self-confessed prolific phone hacker on the Rupert Murdoch tabloid, said Coulson was one of 10 senior figures on the paper who knew how he intercepted voicemails to generate front page stories.

Coulson, editor of the now defunct tabloid until 2007 and then Cameron's head of communications up to early 2011, has denied any knowledge of phone-hacking and says he could not be expected to know the source of every story in his paper.

The 38-year-old Evans has admitted conspiring to intercept voicemails. On Tuesday he took to the stand at London's Old Bailey court for a second day to detail his methods.

He said that on one occasion in October 2005 he had played a hacked recording of a voicemail to his then editor Coulson and other senior figures on the paper which had been left by the actress Sienna Miller for James Bond actor Daniel Craig.

The story of the Craig hacking was just one of many revealed in court.


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