Coulson: 'I knew nothing about phone hacking'

Downing Street’s director of communications, Andy Coulson, told Tommy Sheridan that when he was editor of the News of the World he had “no interest” in destroying him.

Coulson, giving evidence in the former MSP’s perjury trial on Friday, told Sheridan he had not been on his radar until his successful defamation action against the newspaper in 2006.

Sheridan accused Coulson of trying to undermine him politically and break his relationship with his wife – to which Coulson, 42, responded that the politician had a “parallel universe” running through his mind.

Sheridan and his wife Gail, both 46, deny lying under oath during his defamation action against the News of the World, in which the politician won £200,000 in damages after the newspaper published allegations about his private life.

Coulson, testifying for a second day at the trial, at the High Court in Glasgow, said the newspaper spent £200,000 on a video allegedly showing Sheridan making confessions about his private life, but beyond that he had no involvement in the budget processes in relation to stories published about the ex-MSP.

Sheridan asked: “How much money were you aware that the News of the World was willing to pay to destroy me?”

Coulson said: “I had no interest in destroying you.”

He said he was not involved in the stories the Scottish News of the World printed about Sheridan in November 2004, and told Sheridan: “You were not on my radar, I don’t mean to be offensive but my efforts were largely concentrated on the English editions of the paper.

“I didn’t really have a view on you one way or another.”

Sheridan accused Coulson of having “collective amnesia” about what went on while he was at the News of the World, where he was editor between 2003 and 2007, and suggested alternatively that he was lying, which Coulson denied.

Sheridan said: “I don’t think you have been candid at all with the court. I think that your newspaper was involved in concerted efforts to try and undermine me politically and trying to break my relationship with my wife.”

He also suggested there had been “concoctions of video tape”.

Coulson replied: “These things may be true in the parallel universe running in your mind.”

Sheridan touched on Coulson’s current position, saying: “You are beside the Prime Minister, David Cameron. We will have to hope you have your eye more on the ball than you did when you were editor at News of the World.”

Earlier, Sheridan asked Coulson whether he knew of Steve Whittamore, a private investigator who, he told the court, was convicted in 2005 of illegally accessing data and passing it to journalists.

Coulson said he had heard of Whittamore but did not have any contact with him.

Sheridan said that information seized from Whittamore during an investigation into his activities suggested 21 News of the World reporters used his services.

Coulson said he did not instruct any of his journalists to use Whittamore and was not aware of his staff using him in relation to his illegal activities.

Coulson said that the News of the World had a contract with Nine Consultancy, which was owned by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator convicted of phone hacking along with the paper’s royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.

Coulson said the company was paid £105,000 a year but that this was for legitimate services.

But at the time, he did not know the company was run by Mulcaire, he said.

Sheridan, who is representing himself, asked Coulson if he denied that the News of the World in London ordered Mulcaire illegally to intercept the former MSP’s phone messages.

Coulson said: “I’m saying I had absolutely no knowledge and I certainly didn’t instruct anyone else to do so at the time or anything else that was untoward.”

He was not aware of instructions being given by anyone in the Scottish office to have Sheridan’s phone intercepted.

Sheridan also questioned Coulson about his relationship with the police at the time of the phone hacking investigation.

Coulson said he knew Andy Hayman, who was Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, but the relationship was “entirely proper” – he might once have had a cup of tea with him, but they were not friends.

The court heard that Hayman had resigned from the police and now writes for The Times.

Sheridan suggested it “stinks of corruption” that Hayman now has a job with a News International newspaper, but Coulson said that was “nonsense”.

Cross-examining Coulson, Alex Prentice QC asked whether steps were taken to verify the video tape before publication.

Coulson told the court they knew they would have to make “every effort” to back up their belief that it was Sheridan on the video tape.

Paul Holleran, an organiser with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who lives in Glasgow, told the court had had had contact with journalist Anvar Khan about her employment at the News of the World.

Holleran, 55, said that she asked the NUJ for support in 2004/05.

“She had a freelance contract with the News of the World,” he said. “She was a bit uncomfortable at the way she was being treated at the time.

“She felt as if she was being pressured to do things she wasn’t comfortable with.”

In October or November in 2004, Khan asked for advice about her contract with the paper.

He said: “She told me that she was totally stressed out with the current situation. On one occasion she said ‘this is a farce, it’s nothing to do with me’.”

The witness said Ms Khan told him there was pressure for her to give a statement “in relation to the libel case” and that she was worried about getting her contract renewed.

Under cross-examination by Prentice, Holleran was asked if he represented Sheridan during that time.

Holleran explained that the politician had contacted the NUJ following the publication of the News of the World article, but they referred him to a media lawyer.

Sheridan denies making false statements as a witness in the defamation action on July 21 2006.

His wife Gail denies committing the same offence when she gave evidence on July 31 2006 at the civil jury trial.

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