Former home secretary Charles Clarke has described how he faced false rumours that he was having an affair with his “blonde, attractive” special adviser.
The politician told jurors at the Old Bailey in London yesterday that he “wouldn’t dream” of having a sexual relationship with his former aide, Hannah Pawlby, and said he had threatened to sue the Sun for libel if it ran such a story.
Prosecutors allege that journalists at the News of the World (NotW) accessed Miss Pawlby’s voicemails in 2005 after hearing a rumour that the pair were having an affair.
Andrew Edis, QC, asked Mr Clarke: “Was there any truth in that rumour?”
He replied: “Absolutely not. I have never had a relationship of that kind with Hannah. I wouldn’t dream of doing so and the suggestion is completely untrue.”
Mr Clarke, who was home secretary from December 2004 to May 2006, said he was approached by the political editor of the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh, who claimed he had evidence of the affair and would try to get it covered sympathetically in the newspaper, the court heard.
Mr Clarke said: “I said that there was absolutely no basis for him to have any such evidence as such a relationship did not exist.”
Miss Pawlby was also approached by another journalist from the Sun about the rumour.
“She was naturally extremely distressed about this allegation and came to tell me about it,” Mr Clarke said. “I decided that I would phone the editor of the Sun – Rebekah Wade, Rebekah Brooks – to make it clear to her that such a story was completely untrue and that in the event that they did publish I would sue for libel.”
Earlier, jurors were shown an e-mail sent by journalists from the NotW features desk, which said: “Lewis (Panther – a journalist) has had a tip that home secretary Charles Clarke is having an affair with his blonde, attractive special adviser Hannah Pawlby.
“He got this from a Westminster insider who fancied Pawlby, was going to ask her out and was told ‘Don’t bother wasting your time, she’s with Charles’.”
Brooks, 45; former NotW editor Andy Coulson, also 45; former NotW head of news Ian Edmondson, 44; and the tabloid’s ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, are on trial for conspiring with others to hack phones between 3 October, 2000, and 9 August, 2006. They deny the allegations.
Miss Pawlby told the jury she was aware of the false affair claims, and that former NotW political editor Ian Kirby said the rumours had been circulating around the newsroom.
Miss Pawlby said: “There was no truth in the rumour.”
She recalled being contacted by a Sun journalist who was working for a political gossip column in 2006 about the claims.
“She said she had pictures of Charles and I and that we were having an affair and said that they were going to run the story and what did I say to that,” Miss Pawlby told the jury.
“I said I wasn’t having an affair.”
Notes made by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who has admitted phone hacking, included Miss Pawlby’s parents’ landline number and address, the court heard, as well as the phone number of one of their friends who used to work for MI6. Her brother’s phone number was also included in the notes.
The case continues.