Phone-hacking trial: Andy Coulson says affair was wrong

The BBC's Robin Brant says Mr Coulson's wife was in the public gallery, while Rebekah Brooks listened from the dock

Andy Coulson has denied his affair with colleague Rebekah Brooks breached professional standards.

The former News of the World editor said it was "wrong" and "shouldn't have happened" as he gave evidence in the phone-hacking trial for the first time.

But he told the Old Bailey the pair's closeness had not unduly affected their working relationship.

Mr Coulson, 46, denies conspiracy to hack phones and conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Astrologer salary

Mr Coulson, of Charing, Kent, also told the jury that he considered the £105,000 annual contract paid by the News of the World to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire's company "wasn't a lot of money in the business".

"We paid double that, I think, to the astrologer," he added.

Mr Coulson was asked about a proposed 50% cut to the payment to Mulcaire's company Nine Consultancy for "special inquiries" in the newspaper's 2005/6 budget.

Who are the defendants?

Hacking trial defendants

He told the court: "I assumed the description special inquiries meant finding people, looking for people, possibly surveillance in the main and that Nine Consultancy was part of that process."

He added that it was not an area he was "particularly interested in".

When he was asked if he had ever used private investigators at the Sun, he replied: "Not that I can remember, no."

Mr Coulson added that it was only when Mulcaire was arrested in connection with phone hacking in 2006 that he heard his name for the first time.

Asked about the amount the company was paid, he replied: "I would not suggest that £100,000 is not a lot of money but in the context of a £32 million budget it's not a massive sum."

Mr Coulson arrived at court hand-in-hand with his wife Eloise before taking to the witness box.

He is the last of seven defendants, who deny all charges against them, to give evidence.

'Closeness'

Mr Coulson said the affair with Mrs Brooks was "not by any means continual" and that there were "very long periods" in which they remained friends and colleagues.

"There was an affair that started in 1998," he said. "It ended quite soon after but it did re-start, as the court has heard."

The pair had first got to know each other in 1996, becoming professional colleagues two years later when Mrs Brooks was made The Sun's deputy editor - Mr Coulson was also working at the newspaper at the time.

In 2000, Mrs Brooks became editor of the News of the World while Mr Coulson became her deputy.

Rebekah Brooks arriving at the Old Bailey on 31 March 2014 Rebekah Brooks, who has already given evidence in the trial, denies three charges

When she left to edit the Sun in 2003, Mr Coulson took over at the helm of the News of the World, staying in the role until 2007.

Mrs Brooks became News International chief executive in 2009.

Mr Coulson said of the affair: "I don't want to minimise it or excuse it.

"It was wrong and it shouldn't have happened and I take my full share of responsibility for the pain it has caused other people, not least my wife."

Mr Coulson's counsel Timothy Langdale QC said: "In particular, it has been suggested as a result of the closeness of your relationship you would share sensitive or exclusive stories."

But father-of-three Mr Coulson replied: "No, that did not happen. With the caveat, unless on very particular occasions there was a pre-determined deal when there was a share between the two papers."

Mrs Brooks denies conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Andy Coulson and his wife Eloise arriving at the Old Bailey on 14 April 2014 Andy Coulson, pictured with wife Eloise, is the last of seven defendants to give evidence in the trial

Mr Coulson also told the Old Bailey jury he had not spoken to David Cameron since shortly after resigning as Downing Street director of communications.

The court heard Mr Coulson's and Mr Cameron's families had spent a weekend together following his 2011 resignation.

When Mr Langdale asked if the invitation to stay with the Camerons had been made before he stepped down, he replied: "That's right, I haven't spoken to him since."

Air force plan

Mr Coulson told the jury of his career in journalism, saying he "fell in love" with it as a teenager.

He said: "I was all set to join the air force - my father was in the air force and one of my brothers.

"I got some work experience on the local paper via a friend and fell in love with it, really."

When he left school at 18, he started work at the Basildon Evening Echo and then went on to the Sun at the age of 21. From there, he moved to the News of the World.

He was in charge of the newspaper in 2002, when murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, as Mrs Brooks was on holiday, the court has heard.

Mr Coulson resigned from the News of the World following the conviction of Mulcaire and the tabloid's former royal editor Clive Goodman for phone hacking.

He then became director of communications and planning for the Conservative Party. Following the 2010 general election he became Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications.

He resigned from that position in January 2011 and was arrested in connection with phone hacking in July that year, before being charged in July 2012.

Mr Coulson denies one count of conspiring with Mrs Brooks, former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner and others to hack phones between 2000 and 2006.

He also denies two counts of conspiring with Goodman and others to commit misconduct in a public office.

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