Andy Coulson, the former editor of News Corp.’s News of the World, said he was aware phone hacking existed in “vague terms” as he denied any knowledge of the interception of a murdered school girl’s messages that led to the closure of the tabloid nearly a decade later.
Coulson, testifying for a second day at the London trial over alleged wrongdoing at the publisher’s U.K. tabloids, said he wasn’t aware of a plan by journalists to hack the phone of Milly Dowler in 2002.
“I was aware of it in very vague terms of phone hacking in 2002,” Coulson, who later became a media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, said today. “It was in the ether” and was “gossiped about, maybe.” He also said he didn’t know that accessing voice mails was a crime in 2002.
Coulson, 46, is one of seven people on trial for a variety of wrongdoing at News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers, including phone hacking and bribing public officials. The discovery in 2011 that Dowler’s messages had been intercepted sparked a national scandal that led to the closure of the tabloid and forced News Corp. to drop a bid to buy British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
Coulson, the deputy editor of the News of the World in 2002, was in charge of the newspaper the week the paper carried a story about messages on the 13-year-old Dowler’s phone. Rebekah Brooks, another defendant in the case who was then the editor of the weekly tabloid, was on vacation.
The weekly tabloid published a story on Sunday, April 14, 2002, saying a recruitment agency left a message on Dowler’s phone offering her a job. The quote was removed from later editions after police told the newspaper it was a hoax from a prank caller, prosecutors said earlier in the trial.
Coulson said that he had discounted the possibility of a Dowler being offered a job.
“It was nonsense because Milly Dowler was a 13-year-old girl,” he said. “The idea that she could walk into a factory and take a job just seems ludicrous to me.”
He said that had he known about the attempt to listen to the girl’s messages, he would have been “concerned.”
“My instinctive concern would have been that this was interference in a police investigation.”
Coulson also said that he didn’t have any conversation with Brooks about the Dowler article when she returned from holiday.
Under questioning from his lawyer, Timothy Langdale, Coulson said that he thought phone hacking was a lazy method of reporting.
“I would have thought it was intrusive,” Coulson said. “That it was a breach of privacy and I also would have thought that it was lazy.”
Under more questioning, Coulson said that he didn’t know about the practice in any “detail.”
“I presumed it was to do with voice-mail messages,” he said. “I think I knew, possibly heard, that it was to do with access to these voice mails via pin codes, that people have default pin codes and therefore they could be accessed.”
During testimony yesterday, Coulson said that an affair between him and Brooks that ended in 2004 caused pain to many people, including his wife. Prosecutors say the extra-marital relationship was a sign of the close collaboration between the pair in their personal and professional lives.
Brooks later became head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit before stepping down at the height of the phone-hacking crisis in July 2011.
Coulson spoke about the commonly used term “dark arts” and what he thought it meant while he was editor of the weekly tabloid, describing them as “investigative techniques.”
Following people, using hidden cameras and occasionally “blagging,” would all fall under the term he said.
“‘Turning a mobile’ or ‘spinning a mobile,’ these are phrases that I heard during my time as an editor,” he said.
“To me it meant getting an address from a phone number or getting a phone number from an address, or vice versa. And I believed there were perfectly legal ways of doing that.”
He also said that during his tenure he heard the term “phone traffic,” which means gleaning information from phone bills.
“At the time I didn’t give it enough thought,” he said. “I can’t sit here in 2014 and say that there was never a mention of phone traffic at the News of the World because I think there quite likely was.
‘‘I think that’s an area I certainly should have applied my mind to more. I should have looked at it more, interrogated it more.”