Pressure grows on Coulson as police contact former colleague

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Indy Politics

A former News of the World executive who admits hacking mobile phones while working under Andy Coulson has revealed that he has been contacted by Scotland Yard and expects to be interviewed under caution as the reopened police investigation continues.

Paul McMullan, a former deputy features editor at the Sunday red top, also elaborated on his use of other questionable journalistic techniques, saying that he hacked bank accounts and medical records while at the newspaper.

The revelations go some way further to contradicting the claim, made by Mr Coulson at a hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport committee last year, that such nefarious methods were the sole preserve of one "rogue reporter" – the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman. But a series of former journalists at the paper, many anonymous, have refuted this, saying that the practice was much more widespread. The public claims, most notably those of reporter Sean Hoare, have prompted Scotland Yard to reopen the police investigation which ended in 2007 with the conviction of Mr Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

Mr McMullan, speaking at a debate at London's City University, said the techniques he employed were defensible because the stories they were used for – investigations into drug and people trafficking – were in the public interest. Mr McMullan worked for the News of the World between 1998 and 2001, when Mr Coulson was deputy editor. He did not become editor until 2003.

The former features executive's name first surfaced in connection with the phone-hacking scandal last month, when he went public to say that the practice was rife at the newspaper during Mr Coulson's tenure. Mr McMullan said he had personally commissioned private investigators to acquire information via various means, some of which, he accepted, were possibly illegal, and that senior editors, including Mr Coulson, were aware of the practices.

Mr Coulson, who is now David Cameron's director of communications, has maintained he was not aware of any phone hacking while he was editor of the paper. Mr Cameron has backed him, saying that while Mr Coulson is not "unsackable" he is doing a good job of running his communications team.

Mr McMullan said the Metropolitan Police had contacted him on three occasions in the last week, and wanted to interview him under caution. He said he was confident he will not face prosecution. He added: "As I speak here I have to be very careful what I say. Police have contacted me three times because I've put my hands up and said, 'I hacked into people's messages many times but it was in the public interest.' They were investigations on drug trafficking, people trafficking."

Listening to other people's mobile phone messages was made illegal by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. There is no public interest defence. Mr McMullan also used the debate to reveal how he first learned to hack phones. He said he was shown how to hack into voicemail messages by "a teenage girl who said everyone in the playground was doing it.

"About a million teenagers were doing it every day... I remember seeing an episode of Friends where somebody did it to Monica's phone."

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