Andy Coulson has denied knowing murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked while he was in charge of the News of the World (NotW).
The former Downing Street spin doctor yesterday said he did not know anything about the resulting “fairly unremarkable story”, which he did not even rate. He told the Old Bailey: “This is a hoax wrapped in a riddle so I don’t think I rated this story.”
Coulson told jurors he did not remember speaking to his then-editor Rebekah Brooks about it, and was unaware that managing editor Stuart Kuttner had spoken to Surrey Police.
All three deny conspiring to hack phones.
The 46-year-old was at the helm of the Sunday paper in April 2002 when Brooks was on holiday in Dubai and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire hacked Milly’s voicemails.
A message left on her phone suggested she may have applied for work in a factory in Telford, prompting the paper to dispatch reporters to chase the story. Then deputy editor Coulson said he remembered a conversation about the theory, but said: “I thought it was nonsense because Milly Dowler was a 13-year-old schoolgirl.”
He said images of Milly had been widely circulated so “the idea that she could walk into a factory and take a job just seemed ludicrous to me”.
Coulson added: “The paper believed internally that, very sadly, the most likely probability was that Milly Dowler was dead.”
On 14 April, 2002, the now-defunct tabloid ran a story on page nine entitled “Milly Hoax Riddle”, which was then changed and moved further back in the paper’s final edition. Coulson said the story was most likely moved to page 30 due to a “lack of glamorous content” in the front half of the paper.
He said he would not have known from the content that anybody at the paper had been involved in hacking Milly’s phone. “I may have concluded that it came from sources, possibly even police sources, I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
“If I looked at this page, I would have thought this was a fairly unremarkable story that could have been given to every other newspaper.
“I would have therefore concluded it came from the police.”
If he had known Kuttner had been in contact with police about the voicemail, he would have been “very concerned”, he said. Several calls and texts were exchanged between Brooks and Coulson in the days leading up to the 14 April edition.
Asked what communication he had with Brooks about the story, he said: “I do not remember having any conversation about Milly Dowler with her, Rebekah.”
On his second day in the witness box, Coulson said prior to the Dowler incident, he was only vaguely aware of the practice of accessing voicemails “in the ether”.
He said: “I was aware of it in very vague terms. I think it was in the ether. It was something that was gossiped about maybe.”
His lawyer Timothy Langdale QC asked: “Were you ever party to or in agreement with phone hacking at the NotW?”
Coulson said: “No I was not.”
Asked if there was a culture of bullying at the paper, Coulson, 46, said: “I absolutely reject that.”
All defendants deny all the charges. The trial continues.