The confrontation took place months after the News of the World had investigated a tip that Charles Clarke, Home Secretary between 2004 and May 2006, was in a relationship with his special advisor, Hannah Pawlby, the politician said.
Giving evidence at the Old Bailey, Mr Clarke told the court that Mr Kavanagh had said the newspaper would treat the story “sympathetically” if he “confessed”. However he did not because the story was “completely untrue”, and had originated, the court heard, from a rumour.
Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, showed the jury an internal News International email showing how the paper had received the mistaken tip. Dated 25 May 2005, it was sent by the News of the World’s features editor, Jules Stenson, to the editor, Andy Coulson, and deputy editor, Neil Wallis, and copied to a news editor, James Weatherup. Mr Stenson wrote:
“Lewis has had a tip that Home Secretary Charles is having an affair with his blonde, attractive special advisor Hannah Pawlby. He got the tip from a Westminster insider who fancied Pawlby, [who] was going to ask her out and was told don’t bother wasting your time – she’s with Charles. I spoke to Ian Kirby [News of the World’s political editor] about this, who mentioned that news have been working on this for a while through Neville. Our tip gave us Pawlby’s mobile, which I imagine Neville already has…”
The News of the World responded by setting its covert surveillance experts onto Ms Pawlby. Its private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, hacked her mobile phone (recordings of the messages were later found at his home) – and its chief reporter staked out her flat. Neville Thurlbeck found nothing incriminating from watching the property, emailing Weatherup on 18 June 2005: “Girl surfaced from bed around 11am and made brief trip to shops… She has now been visited by two girlfriends her age.”
He added that there was a risk of being caught carrying out the surveillance. The following day, Mulcaire noted Pawlby’s mobile and landline number and her parents’ address.
At a meeting in the Commons, estimated by Mr Clarke to have taken place October 2005 – March 2006, Mr Kavanagh of The Sun confronted Mr Clarke. At the time the News of the World’s sister paper was being edited by Rebekah Brooks, who denies conspiring to hack phones.
Mr Clarke said: “He put it to me that he had evidence that Hannah and I were having an affair and that he would try to give it sympathetic coverage in his paper, the Sun, if I confessed it to him’”
Mr Clarke told Mr Kavanagh the story was untrue and ended the meeting. In her evidence, Ms Pawlby told the court that the rumour was baseless, saying “there was no truth in it”. However she said that she had been contacted by a reporter on the Sun’s gossip column, the Whip, saying “she had pictures of Charles and I and that we were having an affair and they were going to run the story.” Mr Clarke phoned the paper, warning it that the rumour was groundless and he would sue if a story was published.
Mr Coulson, Mrs Brooks, Stuart Kuttner, the News of the World’s managing editor and its news editor, Ian Edmondson, deny plotting to hack mobile phones. The case continues.