Coulson ‘knew Milly Dowler’s voicemail was hacked’

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: PA
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: PA
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A FORMER News of the World journalist has told a court Andy Coulson was aware that voicemail messages on the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been intercepted.

Neville Thurlbeck, the tabloid’s one-time chief reporter, also said other hacked messages were the source of a story about former home secretary David Blunkett having an affair.

Coulson, 47, the prime minister’s former director of communications, is on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh accused of lying under oath in the 2010 perjury trial of former Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan.

Prosecutors allege Coulson falsely stated that, before the arrest of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World journalist Clive Goodman in 2006, that he did not know Goodman was involved in phone hacking with Mulcaire. He denies the charges.

Jurors were shown a copy of a story about the missing schoolgirl that appeared in the paper on 14 April 2002, with the headline “Milly Hoax Riddle Messages on Mobile Probed”.

The story, which appeared at a point when Milly had been missing for more than three weeks, contained precise timings and words that appeared to have been left on her phone.

Thurlbeck told the court that he was looking after the newsdesk that week in the absence of Greg Miskiw, while Coulson, as deputy editor at the time, was filling in for editor Rebekah Brooks, then Wade.

He said Milly’s disappearance was “right at the top of the news agenda” and Coulson had said he wanted to make sure the paper “was all over this story”.

Thurlbeck said he had instructed Mulcaire to get involved with the paper’s investigation into the case and to research all possible suspects, including members of the family.

He was shown a note taken from Mulcaire’s house in 2006 which had Thurlbeck’s name at the top and the names and telephone numbers of Milly’s parents.

He said Coulson was “not initially” aware the private investigator had been tasked with working on the story.

Advocate depute Richard Goddard, prosecuting, asked: “When did he become aware you had instructed Glenn Mulcaire?” Mr Thurlbeck responded: “When Glenn came back with voicemails”.

He added: “He came back with a tip-off. A voicemail which had been intercepted on her phone.”

Mr Goddard asked: “Did Mr Coulson tell you to take this recording straight to the police to help their inquiry?”

Mr Thurlbeck said: “The short answer is no.”

Earlier, the court heard that the story about Mr Blunkett’s affair originated from the illegal interception of between 15 and 25 voicemails he left on the phone of the woman involved in 2004.

The trial continues.