April 16 (Bloomberg) -- Andy Coulson, the former editor of News Corp.’s News of the World, told a criminal court that he listened to a voice mail obtained by the tabloid’s chief reporter detailing an affair involving a government minister.
Coulson, 46, said on his third day of testimony today that he was shocked by the 2004 message about Labour lawmaker David Blunkett’s relationship and initially considered it an invasion of privacy. The next week, however, he said he decided the message was in the public interest and published a story after seeking advice from a lawyer.
“I didn’t know it was illegal and I thought my position would have been justified,” Coulson said today.
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. Coulson, who later became a media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, told jurors that he was aware of the interception of voice-mail messages in “vague terms.”
Under questioning from his own lawyer today, Coulson said he learned about the Blunkett voice mail while he was on vacation in Italy. The message was obtained by Neville Thurlbeck, then the News of the World’s chief reporter.
“I was shocked,” Coulson said. “There was an investigation into a senior politician that happened to be a friend of the newspaper and on what Neville was telling me there was a breach of privacy. I used some colorful language and said: ‘What on earth do you think that you are doing?’”
After Thurlbeck, who has pleaded guilty to phone hacking in the current trial, “pitched” the story again, Coulson said he checked with legal counsel. The lawyer said while it was breach of privacy, there was “no mention of illegality,” Coulson testified.
Coulson said it was the first and only time a voice-mail message was played for him. During testimony yesterday, Coulson said that he had no knowledge that journalists at the paper hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl in 2002.
The discovery that the teenager, Milly Dowler, was missing caused a national scandal and led News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to close the 168-year-old News of the World in July 2011.
Later in the day, Coulson testified that prosecutors misconstrued his instruction in an e-mail to a reporter working on a story about a former soccer star’s son to “do his phone.”
Coulson said that the phrase indicated he wanted the reporter to get the billing data on the phone of the tabloid’s entertainment editor for a story about Calum Best, the son of former Manchester United player George Best.
Coulson said he checked with human resources before getting the data on another employee’s phone records.
When asked by his lawyer, Timothy Langdale, whether the e-mail had anything to do with hacking Calum Best’s phone, Coulson replied:
“No it did not.”
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