Thursday, December 9, 2010
Andrew Coulson Part 1
This afternoon the court heard from one of the most anticipated witnesses in the case, Andrew Coulson. Mr Coulson began by giving his address and confirmed that he was presently employed as the Director of Communications at 10 Downing Street. Mr Sheridan asked the witness for details of his duties, Mr Coulson stated that his role was to "oversee the general media function at Downing Street" and that he reported directly to the Prime Minister. Asked by Mr Sheridan if this was a "powerful position" Mr Coulson responded that he would not describe it as a powerful role, it was however an "important one."
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Coulson about his previous job, and the witness confirmed that he had been the editor of the News of the World (NotW) for four years. Asked why he had left that role Mr Coulson told the court that he had left after one reporter on the paper was convicted of a crime and he had "taken the ultimate responsibility and stepped down." Asked what this crime was the witness stated that it involved "illegal phone hacking" and that he had "no knowledge of it." Mr Coulson confirmed that one of those arrested in the affair was a NotW journalist, Clive Goodman. Mr Sheridan asked the witness if he knew of Mr Goodman's association with Greg Mulcaire. The witness told the court that he had never had any contact with Mr Mulcaire and had not even known his name until Mr Mulcaire had been arrested. Mr Coulson told the court that he had been aware that Mr Mulcaire's company, "9 Consultancy" had been used by the NotW as the witness had once asked a head of a department to reduce the money the paper was paying the company. He insisted however that this was his only knowledge of 9 consultancy and that, in relation to Mr Mulcaire, " I never met him, spoke to him or emailed him."
Mr Sheridan then asked about how much the paper had paid "9 Consultancy" and suggested this would be around £105,000 per annum. Mr Coulson that it was "about that" but added that this was for what he called "legitimate work" adding that the judge in the "Goodman case" had accepted that. Mr Sheridan asked about other payments made to Mr Mulcaire, the witness told the court that there were other payments but these had happened "without my knowledge" Mr Sheridan then asked the witness what crime Mr Goodman and Mr Mulcaire had been convicted of. Mr Coulson told the court they had been convicted of accessing voicemails illegally and that this involved members of the "Royal Household." When Mr Sheridan asked who else had their voicemails "hacked" Mr Coulson responded that it was a "matter of record" Mr Sheridan reponded "it is not a matter of record in this case" and asked the witness to answer the question. Mr Coulson replied that he understood "five other individuals" had been mentioned as having their voicemails intercepted
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Coulson when exactly he had been editor of the NotW. The witness replied that he was in that role from January 2003 until his resignation in January 2007. Mr Sheridan asked the witness how much he had been paid for that role, which led to an objection from the Advocate Depute, Alex Prentice QC, on the grounds of irrelevancy. The presiding judge, Lord Bracadale upheld this objection and directed the witness not to answer the question.
Mr Sheridan then moved on to what "preparation for today" Mr Coulson had undertaken. The witness replied "not much, this is a busy period" continuing "I am not an expert in law, especially Scottish law. Mr Coulson then added that he had taken legal advice from his solicitors and a QC (Queens Counsel) Mr Sheridan asked if News International were paying the witnesses' legal costs to which Mr Coulson replied "I certainly hope so" explaining that as the case related to his employment with News International they would be expected to meet his legal bills.
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Coulson if the "News of the World employed people who broke the law." The witness replied that "we did not seek to but it is obvious we did with Clive Goodman" but denied he had employed "convicted criminals." Mr Coulson also told the court that while he was reponsible for full-time staff, he was not responsible for contractors or freelances, this responsibility falling to his heads of department and the journalists concerned. Asked who he reported to, Mr Coulson replied that this was Les Hinton, the chief executive of News International and that he also reported to the "proprietor" who he named as Rupert Murdoch.. Asked how often he spoke to Mr Murdoch the witness replied "not weekly but reasonably regularly" Mr Coulson was then asked about his relationship with Mr Murdoch, to which he responded "I was his employee" adding "we spoke mostly about politics." Mr Sheridan then asked "did News International expect a return from you in Downing Street" to which Mr Coulson responded "Certainly not" Mr Sheridan then said, "Is it not true the your first visitor to Downing Street was Rupert Murdoch. The Advocate depute again rose to object stating that this was "irrelevant to case before the jury" this objection that was upheld by the judge who asked Mr Sheridan to move on.
Mr Sheridan then discussed with the witness the management structure of the News of the World, during which Mr Coulson told the court he did not "micro-manage" the newspaper. Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that an industrial tribunal had ruled in favour of one of his journalists who had claimed he was "bullied" by Mr Coulson and was awarded £800,000. Mr Coulson called this verdict "astonishing" and denied he was any sort of bully. Mr Sheridan then put it to Mr Coulson that his newspaper "printed lies" to which the witness responded "We try not to." Mr Coulson was then asked about is role in the purchase of what, Mr Sheridan described as "the McNeilage tape," Mr Coulson told the court that he had been alerted to the existence of the tape by Bob Bird, Scottish editor of the News of the World and a previous Crown witness. He had then came to Glasgow to view the tape in reference to which he stated to Mr Sheridan "it was you." Mr Sheridan asked the witness if he had seen him in the tape, to which Mr Coulson responded "I heard your voice." as he had compared that to other recordings of Mr Sheridan speaking. Mr Sheridan asked if the witness had heard "private eye recordings of my voice." To this Mr Coulson replied "I don't believe I did."
Mr Sheridan then brought into evidence a report by the House of Commons select committee on culture and media. This had referred to "obfuscation" by News International executives during their inquiry into phone hacking. Mr Coulson denied any suggestion that this statement could have applied to him, telling the court he had given evidence to the committee and that he "could not have been more co-operative." Asked about the NotW's relationship with the police, Mr Coulson said that it could be "difficult" however the NotW exposed "wrongdoing and criminality" and sometimes worked with the police on that. Mr Sheridan asked if the witness if he had heard the phrase "dark arts" and if so what it meant. Mr Coulson said he took the term to mean "investigative work" but that others may take it to mean illegal methods of journalism. Mr Coulson added that his journalists had always been instructed to "work within the law and the PCC [Press Complaints Commission] code." and that this policy was "in their handbooks."
Mr Sheridan then asked the witness about an article in the New York Times which had quoted an ex-NotW journalist Sean Hoare. The Advocate Depute rose again to object on the grounds that this was irrelevant. However on this occasion Lord Bracadale, after hearing Mr Sheridan's explanation, allowed the question. Mr Sheridan asked Mr Coulson if there had been calls for his resignation as Downing Street director of communications after the publication of the New York Times article. Mr Coulson replied that the calls for his resignation had "come from the Labour Party and newspapers that supported the Labour Party." Mr Sheridan asked "is Sean Hoare was in the Labour Party" to which Mr Coulson replied, "er, no" but added that he was not aware that Sean Hoare had called for his resignation. Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Coulson that Mr Hoare had claimed, in the artilce, that he had been told to "employ the dark arts" by Mr Coulson himself. To this Mr Coulson replied that he had "no recollection of doing so."
Lord Bracadale then called today's session to an end. Mr Sheridan's examination of Mr Coulson will continue tommorrow.
Posted by James Doleman at 5:20 PM