Andy Coulson loses fees battle

 

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has lost a High Court action against his ex-employer over its refusal to pay legal fees arising from the phone-hacking affair.

Mr Coulson, 43, who was not in court today, sued News International subsidiary News Group Newspapers (NGN) over the construction of a clause within a severance agreement from his resignation in February 2007.

He asked Mr Justice Supperstone for a declaration that NGN, which stopped reimbursement in August, "must pay the professional costs and expenses properly incurred" by him "in defending allegations of criminal conduct" during his tenure.

Mr Coulson, who was arrested in July over the allegations and released on bail, has always denied any wrongdoing.

He resigned from his position as Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications in January, saying that coverage of the scandal was making it too difficult for him to do his job.

Christopher Jeans QC, for NGN, said the clause covered the "occupational hazards of being an editor" and not alleged criminal activity.

Dismissing the claim, the judge said the agreement did not cover the criminal allegations made against Mr Coulson personally and if, contrary to his view, the criminal allegations were covered, no proceedings had commenced.

He ordered Mr Coulson to pay NGN's costs and refused him permission to appeal, although he can renew his application directly to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Jeans had said that, if it was intended that NGN would pay all Mr Coulson's legal costs, a clause could simply have stated that it would pay any costs he incurred in relation to any legal investigations or hearings in any way connected with his period as editor.

"Instead, the clause is thick with qualifications - such as 'lawfully able', 'reasonable', 'properly incurred', 'having to defend', the naming of specific types of proceedings, and all 'as a result of his having been editor'."

Far from being, as Mr Coulson's lawyers claimed, as wide as could be drafted, it was a carefully limited clause which in no way covered personal criminal wrongdoing.

He said that, if NGN was wrong on that, the clause only covered proceedings which had commenced - and there were none.

In his ruling, the judge said that plainly, as editor, Mr Coulson was required to act lawfully.

"That being so, the reference to 'editor' in the clause must be to someone performing the lawful duties of editor. His duties comprised only lawful activities.

"Accordingly, it cannot have been intended that activity outside the scope of an editor's lawful responsibilities would be covered by an indemnity; still less that the indemnity should extend to any serious criminal activities for which he was alleged personally to be responsible."

He added that, in his view, proceedings had not yet started.

PA