LONDON - Andy Coulson, an editor of Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World newspaper, instructed a journalist working on a story about a celebrity to “do his phone”, a jury trying Coulson and three others for conspiring to hack phones was told on Friday.
The trial was also told how a phone call from Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry was hacked, and fellow ex-editor Rebekah Brooks authorized payments at Murdoch’s Sun tabloid to military figures for a picture of Prince William in a bikini and details of soldiers killed on active duty.
Coulson and Brooks are the two most high-profile figures among eight defendants on trial on various charges related to phone-hacking, illegal payments to officials for stories, and hindering police investigations. They all deny the charges linked to a scandal that shook the British establishment.
After leaving the News of the World, Coulson went on to be Prime Minister David Cameron’s media chief. Brooks, a close confidante of Murdoch and a friend of Cameron, rose to be chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp.
The Old Bailey, England’s Central Criminal Court, heard that in May 2006, the paper was planning to run an exclusive story about the private life of Calum Best, the son of former Manchester United soccer star George Best.
During an email exchange with Ian Edmondson, a former senior journalist who is also on trial, Coulson discussed whether Best might leak the story to others.
“Do his phone,” Coulson wrote in an email shown to the jury.
Earlier, the court heard that News of the World phone-hacking targets included England soccer star Wayne Rooney, actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller, and Tom Parker Bowles, the son of heir to the throne Prince Charles’s second wife Camilla.
However, Prince Harry was the most notable figure to be caught by the phone-hacking which was carried out by Glenn Mulcaire, a private eye in the pay of the tabloid, at the behest of the paper’s former royal editor Clive Goodman.
The jury was read a transcript of a call from Harry to the voicemail of his private secretary, a former soldier, in December 2005 in which the prince asked him to help get information for an exam while at Sandhurst military academy.
“Just wondering if you have any info at all on siege on the Iranian embassy because I need to write an essay quite quickly on that,” the transcript said.
When Coulson, 45, asked Goodman what was happening about the story, he received the reply: “Just finished the calls. Need to go through the tapes.”
The story later appeared in the paper, while another story obtained from hacking about Prince William being shot during a night exercise was also printed.
Phone-hacking first hit the headlines in 2007 when Mulcaire and Goodman were convicted of tapping phones of royal aides.
Mulcaire has now admitted further hacking charges, including tapping the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, a revelation which caused public disgust in the summer of 2011, prompting Murdoch to close the 168-year-old paper.
Goodman is now on trial accused with Coulson of making illegal payments to police.
The court heard Goodman had emailed Coulson in January 2003 asking him to approve a 1,000-pound ($1,600) cash payment to a royal protection officer for a “Green Book” which contained private numbers of the royal household.
“These people will not be paid in anything other than cash because if they’re discovered selling stuff to us they end up on criminal charges, as could we,” the email shown to the jury said. Coulson replied: “This is fine” but wondered why he had paid for a similar directory recently.
“This is the harder to get one which has the Queen’s direct lines to her family in it,” Goodman said.
“ME, YOU AND THE EDITOR IN JAIL“
In another email shown to thecourt, Goodman explained his use of cash payments to some stories and acknowledged they were illegal.
“I’m not going to put it in writing but any paper or computer trail that leads to them or their families will put them, me, you and the editor in jail,” the email said.
After Goodman’s conviction in 2007, both Coulson and Brooks, who was then editor of the News of the World’s sister paper the Sun, along with other figures were worried about what Goodman might reveal, Edis said.
“You can see they had every reason to be,” he told the jury, adding emails showed Brooks, 45, offered the disgraced reporter jobs at the Sun which he declined.
The court was also told about illegal payments made by reporters at the Sun to public officials which were authorised by Brooks, including 4,000 pounds to a soldier at Sandhurst for a photo of Prince William at a James Bond themed party wearing just a bikini and a Hawaiian shirt.
The paper ran a story although the picture was never published.
Huge payments were also made to a senior Ministry of Defence official which included details of servicemen killed on duty before they were officially announced, the court heard.
“Mrs Brooks herself personally authorised nearly 40,000 pounds worth of payments,” Edis said. “The Sun, through other people working for her, paid nearly twice that amount.”