Coulson denies Milly hack knowledge
Andy Coulson today denied knowing Milly Dowler's phone was hacked while he was in charge of the News of the World.
Coulson told the hacking trial he did not know the practice was illegal but would have regarded it as "intrusive" and "lazy journalism".
The Old Bailey has heard how Coulson was in charge of the Sunday paper in April 2002 when then editor Rebekah Brooks was on holiday in Dubai and the murdered schoolgirl's phone was hacked.
Giving evidence for a second day, Coulson, 46, said before the Dowler incident he was only vaguely aware of accessing voicemails "in the ether".
Coulson, who was deputy editor of NotW at the time, said: "I think I was aware of it in very vague terms. I think it was in the ether. It was something that was gossiped about maybe."
His lawyer Timothy Langdale QC asked: "Were you ever party to or in agreement with phone hacking at the NotW?"
Coulson said: "No I was not."
Mr Langdale said: "In terms of the Milly Dowler story were you aware of any activity by the NotW in relation to hacking Milly Dowler's voicemail messages?"
Coulson replied: "No I was not."
In the spring of 2002, Coulson said he was not aware that to access someone else's voicemail messages was in fact a crime.
But he said: "I would have thought it was intrusive, I would have thought that it was a breach of privacy, and I also would have thought that it was lazy journalism.
"My attitudes were formed by the people I had worked for and the kind of reporter that I was and neither the people I had worked for or myself as a reporter was interested in that - that kind of behaviour."
Coulson, of Charing, Kent, is charged with conspiring to hack phones with Brooks and Stuart Kuttner and conspiring with former royal editor Clive Goodman to commit misconduct in a public office.
All seven defendants deny charges against them.
Coulson said the atmosphere on a Friday and Saturday on the backbench was "frenetic".
But everyone at NotW "from the reporter up" had a responsibility to keep an eye out for potential legal problems.
Asked if he read early versions of stories, he told jurors: "I tended not to read early versions of material because they invariably changed."
Asked if he read every story before publication, Coulson said: "No, I would not have read every word and I would pick and choose what I would read."
Coulson said the term "phone hacking" was not around at the time.
On how it was done, he said: "I did not think I knew in any detail. I presumed it was to do with voicemail messages.
"I think I knew, possibly heard, that it was to do with access to these voicemails via pin codes, that people have default pin codes and therefore they could be accessed."
Earlier in the trial, Brooks gave evidence that she did not know Milly's phone was hacked until nine years after the event.
The revelation in July 2011 led to the decision to close the NotW.
A number of calls and texts were exchanged between Brooks and Coulson in the days leading up to the NotW's edition on April 14.
The court has heard that after private investigator Glenn Mulcaire hacked into Milly's voicemails in April 2002, picking up a voicemail about a job interview, a team of reporters was sent by the paper to Telford, where it was believed it would take place.
But Coulson said: "I don't think I was aware that people were being sent to Telford."
He said he had a memory of a conversation in which he was told that Milly might be applying for, or taking, a job in a factory, but could not remember exactly how.
"It may have come out in conference... I have that memory in my mind and I am very clear about my reaction to it.
"I thought it was nonsense because Milly Dowler was a 13-year-old schoolgirl."
He said the teenager's picture had been in every national newspaper and her family also released "moving" video footage of her which had been shown by broadcasters across the country, and added: "The idea that she could walk into a factory and take a job just seemed ludicrous to me."
He went on: "The paper believed internally that, very sadly, the most likely probability was that Milly Dowler was dead.
"There was the suggestion, wholly incorrect, that her father was somehow involved.
"I remember that being the view internally - not fixed obviously, just information, from a very early stage."
Coulson said he was not aware that then managing editor Stuart Kuttner had contacted Surrey Police about the Milly story or that another senior journalist had told them about the voicemail message.
Asked what his reaction would have been, Coulson said: "I would have been very concerned about it. My instinctive concern would have been that this was interference in a police investigation."
Asked what communication he had with Brooks about the story, he said: "I do not remember having any conversation about Milly Dowler with her, Rebekah."
The court has heard that a story about Milly in the tabloid's April 14 2002 paper changed from one version in the first edition to a different version in later editions.
Asked by Mr Langdale: "Did you ever appreciate from the content of those stories that anybody involved at the NotW had been responsible for hacking Milly Dowler's phone?", Coulson replied: "No."
He said it was not clear where the original story had come from, telling the court: "I may have concluded that it came from sources, possibly even police sources, I don't know. It's hard to say."
A story under the headline "Milly Hoax Riddle" suggested that police were "intrigued" by a message and revealed that messages had been left by a "deranged hoaxer" who had also hampered other investigations.
Coulson said: "I don't remember reading this story so I am, to a degree, reconstructing."
But he said that, as the story did not have "exclusive" on it, he would have thought it was a "fairly unremarkable" story which may have gone to every other newspaper.
"If I looked at this page I would have thought this was a fairly unremarkable story that could have been given to every other newspaper.
"I would have therefore concluded it came from the police," he said.
Coulson said that in the context of the whole paper, he did not "rate" the first-edition Milly story on page nine.
In a later edition, the story was changed and it was moved to page 30.
He said: "This is a hoax wrapped in a riddle so I don't think I rated this story."
He told jurors that he might have decided to move the story for "cosmetic reasons" because the "mix was wrong" of serious and lighter stories.
Coulson went on to say there was a "lack of glamorous content" in the front half of the paper, which could have explained why the Milly story was moved.
Asked if he would have had anything to do with changing the content of the story, which the court heard was "rather reduced" in the later edition, Coulson said: "No, I don't believe so.
"I don't think I would have been in the normal course of events, I certainly don't remember doing so on this weekend."
Asked if the NotW had anything to hide, he replied: "No."
Coulson said he thought a lawyer would have checked the story but added that he did not think there was an "obvious alarm bell" in it to suggest it had come from phone hacking.
"I think the lawyer may have been prompted to ask some questions about it. He may have reached the same conclusion I would have done if I had read it. I don't think there's any obvious alarm bell there."