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Hacking trial: Now Andy Coulson takes the stand - affair with Rebekah Brooks ‘was wrong’

Former editor of the News of the World said he was unaware of the existence of private investigator Mulcaire till his 2006 arrest

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World (NOTW), said he regarded payments of £105,000 a year to a private investigation firm as “not a lot of money” because the tabloid “paid double that to the astrologer”, the phone hacking trial has heard.

Mr Coulson, who went on to lead David Cameron’s communications office in No 10, opened his defence in the trial that has lasted almost 100 days.

He told the Old Bailey that since resigning from his Downing Street post in 2011 he had not spoken to the Prime Minister – except for one weekend where he and his family had visited the Camerons.

The invitation, the court heard, was made before Mr Coulson’s formal resignation was lodged.

Questioned on his knowledge of private investigators used by the NOTW, Mr Coulson said he had “ a memory” of the name of the firm, Nine Consultancy, being mentioned in a budget meeting in 2005.

He said he had been told it was an established “money-saving exercise” involved in “special inquiries” such as surveillance and finding people, but only found out that Nine Consultancy was a front for the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire after he and the former NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman were arrested in 2006.

He said he was also unaware of the existence of Mulcaire till his 2006 arrest.

Mr Coulson, 46, told the jury that his own background in showbiz journalism meant the use of private investigators was “not an area of the News of the World that I was particularly interested in”. He said he did not think he ever commissioned a private investigator, adding “I certainly don’t remember if I did.”

Mulcaire and Goodman were jailed on phone-hacking charges in 2007. Mulcaire has pleaded guilty to further phone hacking-related charges in earlier proceedings of the trial.

The prosecution has claimed Mulcaire was known as a central figure in the “substantial” levels of routine phone hacking that took place inside the NOTW during the period when both Mr Coulson and Rebekah Brooks were editors.

The court has already heard details of the on-off affair that occurred between Mr Coulson and Mrs Brooks.

Timothy Langdale QC, Mr Coulson’s defence counsel, yesterday asked about the close relationship and continuing friendship with Mrs Brooks that began in 1998 when they both worked on the Sun.

Mr Coulson said that although there had been long periods of simply “good friendship” with Mrs Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, there had also been physical intimacy.

Mr Coulson, who is married with three children, described his secret affair with Mrs Brooks, as “wrong” and “something that shouldn’t have happened”.

He said the intermittent affair had lasted six years and acknowledged the hurt it had caused his wife, Eloise. He told the court : “I don’t want to minimise it or excuse it. It was wrong and shouldn’t have happened… I take full responsibility for what happened because of the pain it caused, not least for my wife.”

Earlier in the trial, during the Crown’s opening and in evidence given by Mrs Brooks, the jury heard the prosecution allege that the closeness of the two former editors must have involved discussing the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone during the period in 2002 when the murdered schoolgirl was first discovered missing.

Mrs Brooks said to the court that they “completely” trusted each other enough to reveal any confidence, including potential criminality.

Mr Coulson denies conspiring with Mrs Brooks, Stuart Kuttner, the former managing editor of the NOTW, and others to illegally access mobile-phone voicemails.

He also denies two further charges of conspiring with Goodman to commit misconduct in public office. Goodman also denies the charges.

The trial continues.