Phone-hacking trial: Andy Coulson told editor to 'do' a phone to verify celebrity tip-off, court told

Emails between ex-NOTW editor and executive are 'significant' in context of hacking trial, Old Bailey hears

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The Independent Online

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World who also ran David Cameron's Downing Street communications unit, told a news executive to "do" a celebrity's phone as the paper tried to establish the veracity of a rumour about him, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.

The instruction was made in 2006 at the peak of phone-hacking activity inside the now-shuttered News International (NI) tabloid and was "significant" in the context of the hacking trial, prosecutor Andrew Edis, QC, told the jury. The phone the editor wanted "done" belonged to Calum Best, the son of the Manchester United footballer George Best. Mr Edis told the court the NOTW wanted to confirm if Calum Best was about to become a father.

Worried that Mr Best knew the NOTW was investigating his private life because he had friends on the paper, Mr Coulson, the prosecution claims, wrote the three-word message because he was concerned that Mr Best was about to leak the birth details to a rival Sunday title. In an email to the editor, sent in May 2006, Mr Edmondson wrote: "I know [Mr Best's then girlfriend Lorna Hogan] is a nightmare, but at the moment I'm looking at every little thing. Same thing happened before, Calum bragging I have close mates inside NOTW."

Mr Edis read the jury Mr Coulson's brief answer to the Best problem: "Do his phone."

The jury listened as Mr Edis read out the names of victims of phone hacking by the newspaper. The list included Sienna Miller, Jude Law, the politicians Lord Archer, Nigel Farage and Mark Oaten, pop singer Kerry Katona and various people connected to the Royal Family, including Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a private secretary to Prince William and Prince Harry, and Tom Parker-Bowles, the son of the Duchess of Cornwall. Mr Edis added that Sir Paul McCartney and his former wife Heather Mills were "the subjects of phone hacking for years".

Mr Coulson and Mr Edmondson, along with the former NI chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, and the NOTW's former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, deny charges of being involved in a conspiracy to illegally intercept mobile phone messages between October 2000 and August 2006. A total of eight defendants are facing varying charges involving hacking, making corrupt payments to public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. All eight deny the charges.

Mr Edis told the court that phone hacking was not always the source of stories published by the NOTW. However he said it was one of three central techniques often used alongside other investigative methods, including surveillance and direct confrontation. He described the involvement of phone hacking in the investigation process as "perfectly rational but entirely illegal".

Details from a NOTW investigation of a rumoured – but false – love affair, involving the then special adviser to the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, was also given to the jury.

The jury was shown emails written to Mr Coulson and his deputy Neil Wallis in 2005 by Jules Stenson, features editor of the NOTW. The Stenson email cited a tip that Mr Clarke was having an affair with his "attractive" special adviser Hannah Pawlby. It stated "a Westminster insider who fancied Pawlby, was going to ask her out and was told: 'Don't bother wasting your time – she's with Charles'". It was revealed that the newsdesk had, separately from the features desk, "been working on this for a while".

The prosecution said that Ms Pawlby had been targeted by the NOTW's phone-hacking specialist Glenn Mulcaire in 2004. Mr Mulcaire, the court was told, had listed in his notebooks details relating to Ms Pawlby, her family and neighbours. Mr Edis asked the jury: "Was Mr Coulson involved in this? Yes he was." He described how Mr Coulson had contacted Ms Pawlby to tell her: "I have got a story that we are planning to run tomorrow that I really would like to speak to Charles about. I wouldn't do this in the normal course of events but it's quite a serious story."

Mr Edis described Mr Coulson's alleged multiple involvements in NOTW investigations. "He's the man who comes to put the story to them, to see what they say, hoping they will say something that confirms it and that allows him to put it in the paper." He added: "They're all working as a team aren't they, isn't that the point? And he's the boss of the team."

No story was published on a Clarke-Pawlby affair, because it was untrue, the jury learned. In addition to celebrities and politicians, the NOTW's hacking operations also targeted members of the Royal Family. The jury heard that Clive Goodman, the paper's former royal correspondent, was the key figure in the targeting of royals.

Although jailed along with the NOTW's specialist hacker, Muclaire, in 2007, the jury heard that Goodman's activities allegedly began earlier and were more extensive than the period covered by his conviction. Intercepting the voicemails of royal staff led the NOTW to publish a story on Prince Harry, which claimed he had broken the rules at Sandhurst by asking an aide for help with an essay.

Mr Edis said that Goodman had told Mr Coulson that the young Prince had asked his private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a former soldier, for information about the Iranian embassy siege while studying at the military training academy. Mr Lowther-Pinkerton's voicemail had been hacked by Mulcaire, Mr Edis told the court.

Goodman was careful not to reveal how he acquired the story. He told Mr Coulson he was seeking a response from Clarence House, but did not want to be "too precise" because it might expose their source. The jury heard about a sequence of NOTW stories that had been obtained by Goodman using information which came from Mulcaire's hacking. On one occasion Goodman emailed Mr Edmondson to tell him a story about Prince William had come "from William himself". Asked to explain, Goodman wrote to the newsdesk: "Not on email." Later Mr Edis said Goodman and Mr Coulson "knew what was going on. These are really quite explicit emails. Although they are not as explicit as they might be". He added: "They are being as careful as they can be but the truth, I'm afraid, is still there to be seen despite that."

The evidence: 'Victims of hacking'

Prince William

Clive Goodman emailed News Of The World news editor Ian Edmondson, telling him that a story about Prince William had come "from William himself", the jury was told. Edmondson then wrote back asking for an explanation, to which Goodman replied: "Not on email."

Prince Harry

The court heard that Glenn Mulcaire illegally accessed a voicemail in which Prince Harry asked his private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton – who had himself attended Sandhurst before joining the Irish Guards – to help with an essay he was writing about the Iranian embassy siege. Prosecutors claim that emails between Clive Goodman and Andy Coulson about the story reveal them discussing how to obtain a response from Clarence House without revealing information that would suggest hacking.

Calum Best

The court was read emails between Andy Coulson and Ian Edmondson discussing a potential story about the son of George Best, who was rumoured to have fathered a child. After being informed by Edmondson that he was concerned Mr Best might leak the story to a rival newspaper, Coulson wrote back: "Do his phone", the court was told.

Charles Clarke and Hannah Pawlby

The jury heard that Glenn Mulcaire listened to the voicemails of Hannah Pawlby, a special adviser to the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, following an untrue tip-off that they were having an affair. Andy Coulson then confronted Mr Clarke with the rumour, which he denied. The story did not appear in the paper.