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Defence casts doubt on claim ex-Murdoch editor heard hacking tape

Source: Reuters - Thu, 30 Jan 2014 04:29 PM
Author: Reuters
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* Accuses star prosecution witness of story-telling

* Hacker says he may have been wrong about voice on recording

* Andy Coulson, also ex-aide to PM, charged with conspiracy

By Michael Holden

LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Andy Coulson, former editor of Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid the News of the World, was not in the office at the time he is alleged to have listened to a recording of a hacked phone voicemail message, a London court heard on Thursday.

Coulson, editor of the mass-selling tabloid until 2007 and then Prime Minister David Cameron's head of communications up to early 2011, is on trial accused of conspiracy to illegally intercept messages on mobile phones, a charge he denies.

Dan Evans, a former reporter who has admitted carrying out hacking while working for the paper, told the Old Bailey court earlier this week that Coulson had listened to a hacked voicemail revealing an affair between two leading actors in October 2005 and expressed his delight.

Evans had told the jury he had come into the office on a Tuesday, the first working day for staff on the Sunday tabloid, with a message left by the actress Sienna Miller on the phone of James Bond actor Daniel Craig. He had played this to colleagues and later to Coulson, he had said.

However, Coulson's lawyer Timothy Langdale said that on the day this was supposed to have occurred, the editor was away.

"Mr Coulson wasn't in the office at all that day," Langdale told him. "He wasn't even in London that day."

Asked to explain this, Evans, who is giving evidence for the prosecution in their case against Coulson and other former Murdoch staff over phone-hacking and other offences, said: "Then my recollection must be flawed."

He suggested it had perhaps occurred on the next day, adding: "Clearly my recollection hasn't been prolific ... but happen it did."

Langdale also quizzed him about the day he claimed to have hacked Craig's phone, suggesting his version did not tally with phone records and pointing out that he had never mentioned any subsequent interceptions.

NOT A WORD OF TRUTH

He also accused Evans of lying about Coulson inventing an elaborate plan to mask how the reporters had come across the recording by having a copy made, placed into a bag and dropped at the gates of the News Corp site in Wapping.

"According to you, Mr Coulson proceeded to give instructions about making a copy, putting it in a ... bag and having it delivered to the front gate. There's not a word of truth in that, is there?" Langdale said.

He also highlighted how Evans had told the court that this tape had been taken to the editor's office and put in a safe, pointing out Coulson did not have a safe.

"Is this yet another example of story-telling, e.g. fiction by you?" Coulson's counsel put to him.

Earlier Evans, who has told the court he hacked thousands of voicemails during his time at the News of the World and that Coulson knew exactly what he did, apologised if he had misled the court during evidence he had given during four days of testimony.

Evans had told the jury he had hacked the phone of interior designer Kelly Hoppen and had heard actress Miller leaving a tearful message on it which formed the basis of a story in the paper.

But on Thursday he told the jury he had been thinking very hard and now had "nagging doubts" about what he had said and instead believed the message had been left by Miller's sister.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to mislead anybody and I misspoke my evidence," said Evans, who has admitted lying both to police and in legal statements he made when first accused of hacking. "I don't have specific total recall of everything that went on a long time ago."

Coulson, who faces a jail sentence if convicted, denies conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemail messages on mobile phones and says he could not be expected to know the source of every story in his paper. He also denies authorising illegal payments to public officials in return for stories.

His trial and that of six others accused of offences relating to the phone-hacking scandal, including Rebekah Brooks the former chief of Murdoch's British newspaper arm News International, is due to last until May. They deny all charges.

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