Day 117, Part 1: Andy Coulson made no attempt to inquire into the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World in 2004 after the chief reporter eavesdropped the messages of the Home Secretary, the Old Bailey was told today.
Summing up at he phone hacking trial, Mr Justice Saunders ran through events surrounding the targeting by Neville Thurlbeck of the voicemails of the Cabinet minister David Blunkett in the summer of 2004, two years before the police busted the tabloid’s hacking operation.
Mr Justice Saunders reminded the jury that Mr Coulson, the editor, had said he had learnt of the hacking of Mr Blunkett’s messages in June 2004, while he had been on holiday in Italy.
Mr Coulson had said that he was shocked by the breach or privacy and had immediately told Thurlbeck to stop what he was doing.
However a few weeks later, Mr Coulson had told the court, Thurlbeck had maintained there was a public interest justification in exposing the relationship between Mr Blunkett and Kimberly Quinn because he was a Labour politician and she published a Conservative-supporting magazine, The Spectator.
Mr Coulson felt the story was in the public interest because Mr Blunkett had mentioned a terrorist arrest and a visit to GCHQ in the messages he left for his lover.
Mr Justice Saunders pointed out that none of those security details were included in the front-page story, “Blunkett’s Affair With A Married Woman”, the News of the World actually published.
He told the jury:
“The very justification for the publication was not found in any of the article. Mr Coulson accepted that and he said that was a mistake, and he agreed that as he published the story he did not have any public interest in it.”
The judge continued:
“[Mr Coulson’s] reason for not putting in the matters of public interest were to preserve Mr Blunkett’s position as Home Secretary. The prosecution say that is nothing more than a pretence and that what he was after was a salacious story: which he printed. The truth, say the prosecution, was that Andy Coulson was well aware that phone hacking was going on… He denies that.”
Mr Justice Saunders said:
“After this revelation Mr Coulson accepts that there was no inquiry at the newspaper into whether there was any other phone hacking taking place at the newspaper. There was no disciplinary action against Neville Thurlbeck.”
Mr Coulson had also not told Guy Black, Press Complaints Commission executive director, about the Blunkett hacking when he met him shortly after it took place.
Mr Justice Saunders said: “He [Mr Coulson] says he didn’t ask Neville Thurlbeck whether he had done it and he didn’t take any other steps to see if anyone else was phone hacking.”
Mr Coulson had said that good practice in investigative reporting had been addressed by his establishment later in 2004 of the News of the World’s “School of Excellence.”
All defendants deny the charges. The case continues.