Andy Coulson, the former editor of News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, said he never discussed stories and investigations with Rebekah Brooks, who then ran the company’s Sun daily newspaper, during an affair more than a decade ago.
Coulson, testifying for the first time at the London trial today, said the affair caused many people, including his wife, great deals of pain. He told jurors that the trysts with Brooks were “wrong” and “should not have happened.”
“There was an affair,” Coulson, 46, said. “There were very long periods when the relationship was what it should’ve been,” a close friendship.
Coulson and Brooks are among seven people on trial for a variety of wrongdoing at News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers, including phone hacking and bribing public officials. Prosecutors say the affair, which ended in 2004, was a sign of the close collaboration between the pair in their personal and professional lives.
The affair has been a common theme during the nearly six-month-old criminal trial. Brooks, who later became head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, discussed it during her testimony in February, calling it more evidence of the “car crash” of her personal relationships than anything else.
“There was an affair that started in 1998,” Coulson said today with his wife in court and Brooks and her husband sitting in the dock. “It ended quite soon after but it did restart, as the court has heard. What I want to say is that it was not by any means continual.”
Coulson was one of the first victims of the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp., which dates back to 2006. He resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 after a reporter was sentenced to prison for listening to messages on the phone of employees of the royal family.
Within months, Coulson had been hired by David Cameron as a media adviser to the Conservative Party. In 2010, he followed Cameron to Downing Street after he was elected prime minister.
The phone-hacking scandal refused to subside and Coulson resigned his post in January 2011 as communications director after a flurry of civil lawsuits filed by celebrities.
By July of that year, Coulson had been arrested by police and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the tabloid in response to public outrage over the discovery that News of the World journalists had hacked the phone of a murdered teenager.
Coulson testified today that he has only talked to Cameron once since he resigned from government and not at all since his arrest.
Weekend at Cameron’s
“My family and I spent a weekend with him in the spring after I left,” Coulson said, telling jurors that the visit stemmed from a longstanding invitation. “I have not spoken to him since.”
Coulson said that while he was working for the prime minister on Downing Street, he saw Murdoch “sparingly.”
“Almost entirely at social occasions, his summer party,” Coulson said. “Then there were also occasions while David Cameron met with Rupert Murdoch and, although I did not sit in on those meetings, I saw him either before or after.”
Murdoch spoke to Coulson more frequently when he edited the weekly News of the World, the country’s best-selling newspaper before it was closed. The company chairman played a lead role in setting the tabloid budget and would call “every now and then.”
“He would call, usually on a Saturday evening,” Coulson said. “Sometime he would call every week in a month and sometimes he would not call at all.”
Coulson said the first time he heard the name Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the center of the phone hacking allegations, was when Mulcaire was arrested in 2006 along with the News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman.
Coulson said that he recalled a payment being made to Nine Consultancy, a company used by Mulcaire to receive payments from the tabloid.
“It is difficult because I have a memory of Nine Consultancy being mentioned on a budget document at some point,” Coulson said. “And that was the extent of my knowledge. My memory is that I was told that it was a money saving exercise.”
Mulcaire has pleaded guilty to phone hacking a second time as part of the current case. Goodman is a defendant in the trial.