Andy Coulson claimed he was not part of any agreement made inside the News of the World to hack the phone of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, a jury at the Old Bailey has heard.
Mr Coulson, who edited the Murdoch-owned title for four years before resigning in 2007, told the jury in the phone-hacking trial that he was unaware in 2002 that the interception of voicemails was a crime, and claimed he was only vaguely “aware” of the procedure as something “gossiped about”.
Asked by his counsel, Timothy Langdale QC, about his perception of hacking, Mr Coulson said he thought it was an “intrusive” breach of privacy that he regarded as “lazy” journalism.
Mr Coulson was deputy editor of the NOTW in April 2002 when the paper ran a story about Milly that contained information taken from her mobile phone.
Mr Coulson, who went on to head David Cameron’s communications team in 10 Downing St, was in charge because the editor at the time, Rebekah Brooks, was on holiday in Dubai.
The court has heard evidence that the paper’s private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who was paid £105,000 a year for his services, was tasked with illegally accessing the schoolgirl’s phone.
Asked by Mr Langdale if he was involved in, or aware of, the Dowler hacking by individuals on his newspaper, Mr Coulson said, “No I was not.”
He told the jury he regarded the story of Milly apparently applying for a job in a Midlands factory as “unremarkable” and it did not occur to him that any detail had been obtained by someone inside the NOTW illegally accessing the schoolgirl’s voicemail.
“I may have concluded that it came from sources, maybe police sources,” he told the court. Mr Coulson said “catching criminals” was part of the NOTW’s “DNA” and told the court this involved working closely with the police.
Although this relationship was not “without tensions”, he claimed there was no attempt by the paper “to interfere in police investigations”.
Asked hypothetically how he would have felt if he had known the newspaper was involved in phone hacking, he said he would have been “very concerned”, adding : “I think my instinctive concern would be that this was interference in a police investigation.”
The first edition of the NOTW on 14 April 2002 referred to material taken from voicemails on Milly’s phone. The voicemail references did not appear in later editions of the paper.
The jury has heard that public outrage over the discovery of the Dowler hacking nine years later led Rupert Murdoch to close the NOTW in 2011. Mr Coulson, looking back on the story of April 2002 that contained the Dowler voicemail, told the court that the changes made to the positioning of the story inside the NOTW between the first and third editions were essentially cosmetic, because he wanted more “glamorous” content moved up the paper.
Mr Coulson said the decision to send eight reporters and photographers to the factory where they, wrongly, believed Milly would be found, was taken by the newsdesk, not by him.
Mr Coulson, 46, was giving evidence for the second day in his defence. Mr Coulson told the court he could not remember conversations with Mrs Brooks involving any discussion about Milly Dowler.
Mr Coulson is one of seven defendants in the trial. All the charges are denied.
The trial continues.