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British PM Cameron's ex-media chief knew of phone-hacking, court hears

Source: Reuters - Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:34 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Cameron's ex media aide denies phone-hacking charges

* Ex-Murdoch reporter says he hacked hundreds of voicemails

* He says staff including Coulson knew what he did

By Michael Holden and Kate Holton

LONDON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - The former media chief to British Prime Minister David Cameron listened to a hacked voicemail revealing an affair between two leading actors and declared it "brilliant" when he was editor of the News of the World, a London court heard on Tuesday.

Dan Evans, a former reporter and self-confessed prolific phone hacker on the Rupert Murdoch tabloid, said Andy Coulson was one of 10 senior figures on the now-defunct paper who knew how he intercepted voicemails to generate front page stories.

Coulson, editor of the mass-selling tabloid until 2007 and then Cameron's head of communications up to early 2011, has denied any knowledge of phone-hacking and says he could not be expected to know the source of every story in his paper.

Cameron faced questions over his own judgment in appointing Coulson when the paper was shut in July 2011 and has said he would make a "profound apology" if it turned out his former spokesman had lied.

The 38-year-old Evans took to the stand at London's Old Bailey court for a second day on Tuesday to detail his methods, after he admitted conspiring to intercept voicemails.

He said that on one occasion in October 2005 he had played a hacked recording of a voicemail to his then editor Coulson and other senior figures on the paper which had been left by the actress Sienna Miller for James Bond actor Daniel Craig.

"Andy came over wanting to hear the tape. I played the tape a couple of times and they listened to it," Evans told the court. "Andy became very animated. Brilliant."

Another journalist who was present took the reporter by the arm and said: "You are a company man now." Evans joined the Sunday tabloid in 2003, after being approached by News of the World staff who, he said, wanted to exploit his phone hacking in the fiercely competitive British tabloid market.

The voicemail revealed that Miller, then girlfriend of another British actor, Jude Law, who gave evidence on Monday, was having an affair with Craig.

"I heard a female voice saying 'Hi, it's me, I can't speak, I'm at the Groucho (club) with Jude. I love you'," Evans said.

EXCLUSIVES PRESSURE

He told the jury that having heard the recording, Coulson came up with an elaborate plan to mask how the reporters had come across the tape.

That included having a copy of the recording made, placed into a bag and dropped at the gates of the News Corp site in Wapping, to be picked up by security. That would enable the reporters to pretend it had been dropped off by an anonymous source when it later arrived back in the newsroom.

Evans said the hacking had stopped after police arrested the tabloid's royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2006.

"There was a lot of fear and anxiety, a lot of people were preparing to cover their tracks," he told the court.

But Evans said he returned to his hacking ways in 2009 to try to access the phone of interior designer Kelly Hoppen who was suspected of having an affair with pop star Madonna's ex-husband, film director Guy Ritchie.

"Curiosity killed this particular cat," he said, adding that Hoppen had stepped up the security around her phone and was alerted to the attempted hack. With a court order she was able to trace the source as Evans' number.

Evans said that part of the driving force behind the hacking had been the constant pressure to get exclusives.

"If you don't come up with a front page story you might as well jump off a cliff," he said one senior journalist had told him in an email.

He said his response was indeed to hack even more.

"I did everything I could to make sure I came back with a story. I hacked every phone I could possibly think of," he said.

Evans, who admitted in court a history of recreational drug-taking, is the fourth journalist from the News of the World to have admitted phone-hacking charges. Coulson has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to intercept voicemails and authorising illegal payments to public officials.

Six others, including Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Murdoch's British newspaper arm, are also on trial and deny all charges.

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