Andy Coulson said there was “confusion” inside the News of the World on data protection laws and admitted he “didn’t do enough” when he learned that the telephone records of Prince Harry’s girlfriend had been illegally procured, a jury at the Old Bailey has been told.
Mr Coulson, the former editor of the News International tabloid, said he was told by email in 2005 that a reporter had obtained phone billing data from Chelsy Davy.
The email described Ms Davy as making 60 calls and texts over one month to the prince. The royal editor who sent the email, Clive Goodman, described the regular contact between the royal and his Zimbabwean girlfriend as “Chelsy driving Harry nuts”.
Mr Coulson, 46, who later headed David Cameron’s communications operation inside 10 Downing Street, said he did not conclude at the time that the details sent by Goodman meant the paper “in clear terms” had accessed Ms Davy’s phone records.
Mr Coulson said that “phone traffic” was the term sometimes used inside the NOTW to refer to billing data. He said he had not “applied his mind” enough to the information Goodman was giving. He told the jury “I didn’t know how it [accessing phone data] was done, and didn’t ask.”
In addition the “driving Harry nuts” discovery, Goodman added in his email that the NOTW had “been having a quiet look at this independently.”
Mr Coulson told the court that “from this distance” the information he was sent could mean that billing records were being checked. He said this action may have constituted use of the “dark arts” used by investigative journalists on the now-closed Murdoch-owned tabloid.
Andrew Edis QC, the prosecution’s lead counsel, cross-examining Mr Coulson for a third day, said it was not about “from a distance”, adding “that’s what it says.”
Mr Coulson told the court that there was a “lot of confusion” on data protection law inside the NOTW and in the newspaper industry.
Mr Edis said the NOTW had a “wonderful media lawyer” and asked what advice he had given on the acquisition of private phone records.
Mr Coulson admitted he should have “paid more attention to this.”
The judge, Mr Justice Saunders, asked Mr Coulson if obtaining phone billing records was considered “one of the darks arts” at the NOTW. Mr Coulson replied: “Yes.”
The jury has been told that Goodman, the former royal editor of the NOTW, was jailed in 2007 on hacking-related charges.
Mr Coulson and six others in the trial deny all the charges against them.
The case continues.