Scotland

Andy Coulson trial: Former editor 'knew of Milly Dowler voicemails'

andy coulson Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Coulson denies lying under oath

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson knew that the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been accessed, his trial has heard.

The paper's former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, also said he told Mr Coulson that a story about former Home Secretary David Blunkett had originated from hacked voicemails.

Mr Coulson is accused of lying under oath in the 2010 perjury trial of former MSP Tommy Sheridan.

He denies the charge.

Mr Thurlbeck told the High Court in Edinburgh that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire gave him a tape of a voicemail intercepted from 13-year-old Miss Dowler's mobile phone after she went missing in 2002.

He said Mr Coulson did not tell him to take the tape to the police, and that Mr Mulcaire told him the voicemail had come from a police contact.

'Trusted source'

Mr Thurlbeck said he and Mr Coulson thought police already had the tape, so it would have been pointless to give it to them.

And he said Mr Coulson did not press him on the precise source of the voicemails, adding: "He trusted the source because he trusted me."

Mr Thurlbeck also told the court: "Andy did not micromanage the paper. He trusted me. If I told him it was from a trusted source it would be enough".

He later stressed: "One must add, very importantly, that with regard to Milly, at no stage was Andy aware that the voicemails had been illegally intercepted."

Prosecutors allege that Mr Coulson, the prime minister's former head of communications, falsely stated during Mr Sheridan's trial that, before the arrest of Mr Mulcaire and News Of The World journalist Clive Goodman in 2006, he did not know the pair had been involved in phone hacking.

Earlier during Monday's evidence, Mr Thurlbeck said Mr Mulcaire had illegally intercepted between 15 and 25 voicemails left Mr Blunkett on the phone of a woman with whom he had been involved in an affair in 2004.

He said he became aware of the messages when they were played to him by Mr Mulcaire.

The court was shown an exclusive front page News of the World story written by Mr Thurlbeck and printed on 15 August 2004. It had the headline: "Blunkett Affair with A Married Woman."

Public interest

Mr Thurlbeck, 53, said he phoned Mr Coulson, who was on holiday at the time, and "told him that I had been played the voicemail messages left by David Blunkett."

He said Mr Coulson initially reacted with "extreme caution" over the story and told him to stop.

When Mr Coulson got back from holiday, a meeting was held to discuss the public interest justification for the story, the court heard.

Asked what he told Mr Coulson about the source of the story, Mr Thurlbeck said: "I said it was done by Glenn, our private investigator."

Mr Thurlbeck said he had not used the investigator's surname during the conversation.

Advocate depute Richard Goddard, prosecuting, put it to the witness: "You told Mr Coulson that the hacked voicemails in relation to Mr Blunkett had come from the News of the World's private investigator Glenn?"

"That's correct," Mr Thurlbeck replied.

The trial continues.

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