Hacking trial - Coulson is asked: ‘Do you remember editing a paper?’

Prosecution’s inquiry after phone hacking defendant’s memory fails him in witness box

Political Correspondent

Andy Coulson’s memory of his involvement in editing the April 2002 edition of the News of the World which contained hacked voicemails from the phone of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler was criticised at the Old Bailey yesterday with the prosecution asking him: “Do you remember editing a newspaper?”

The former editor of the closed News International tabloid, told the court that he could not remember his newspaper dispatching seven reporters to check emerging details, nor that a further three journalists were working on the story in the paper’s Wapping office.

He told the jury he could not remember who told him there was a theory that the 13-year-old schoolgirl had applied for a factory job.

Mr Coulson, the paper’s deputy editor in 2002, was “acting up” as editor while Rebekah Brooks was on holiday in Dubai. Although the jury has been told and shown details from telephone logs that indicate Mr Coulson and Mrs Brooks spoke regularly to each other as the edition containing the Dowler story approached its Saturday deadline, Mr Coulson said he “could not remember” talking to Mrs Brooks about the schoolgirl.

Details of the hacked voicemail that appeared in the first edition of the April 2002 Sunday paper were omitted from a later edition and the story moved to the back of the paper.

Mr Coulson had earlier denied there was a process to hide the “true source” of the voicemail information, explaining that, as editor, he wanted to improve the “mix” of the paper.

He also told the jury that he may not have read the whole of the Milly story before he took the decision to move it. “I may have only got to the fourth paragraph,” he said. Andrew Edis QC, the prosecution’s lead counsel, pressed Mr Coulson, asking if it was possible he may have read the entire story, adding: “Do you remember editing a newspaper?”

In the opening of the Crown’s cross-examination, Mr Coulson was asked about the intimate on-off affair he had with News International’s former chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

The affair lasted nine years, the jury was told. Mr Coulson, 46, who later headed David Cameron’s communications operation in 10 Downing Street, said the affair had begun in 1998 and continued, intermittently, till he resigned from the tabloid in 2007.

His resignation followed the sentencing and imprisonment of the former royal editor, Clive Goodman, and the paper’s retained private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, on phone hacking charges. Within six months Mr Coulson was hired by the Conservative Party as head of communications and planning. George Osborne, the court heard, was instrumental in the hiring.

Mr Coulson denies conspiring to hack phones. He also denies a second charge of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. Six other defendants in the trial deny all charges against them.

The case continues.

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