LONDON (AP) — Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson sent an email telling a news editor to "do his phone" in relation to an alleged target of phone hacking, a British prosecutor said Friday.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis told a jury that the instruction referred to Calum Best, son of late soccer star George Best, who was the subject of intense interest by the now-defunct Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid.
Edis was continuing opening arguments in the case against former News of the World editors Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, and six others on hacking-related charges. All deny the allegations.
But prosecutors say Coulson, Brooks and other senior staff must have known that illegal activity was taking place at the paper in the early- to mid-2000s.
Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, then went on to edit its sister paper, The Sun, and later became the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper division. Coulson edited the News of the World from 2003 to 2007 before becoming communications chief to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Brooks and Coulson, both 45, and six others are on trial in the first major criminal case spawned by the revelation in 2011 that employees of the News of the World eavesdropped on the voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims.
The phone hacking scandal forced Murdoch to shut the 168-year-old News of the World, triggered several police inquiries and has created intense pressure on Britain's freewheeling tabloid press to mend its ways.
The prosecutor focused Friday on the alleged role of former news editor Ian Edmondson, one of the accused. Edis said Edmondson was behind a bout of "frenetic" phone hacking activity starting in 2004 that saw private investigator Glenn Mulcaire instructed to access the voicemails of actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller, former Beatle Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills, British politician Mark Oaten and others.
Friends, family and associates of celebrities were also targeted, Edis said, and sometimes even people caught up at random in the tabloid net. He said a hairdresser named Laura Rooney was hacked "because they thought she was related to Wayne Rooney," the Manchester United soccer star. She wasn't.
Mulcaire was convicted in 2007 of hacking the phones of royal aides, and has pleaded guilty to new hacking charges. Three former news editors at the tabloid also have pleaded guilty, but Edmondson denies phone hacking.
"The prosecution says, frankly, that the evidence against Mr. Edmondson is absolutely overwhelming," Edis said.
Coulson and Brooks were both senior Murdoch aides, associates of Prime Minister David Cameron — and, the jury was told Thursday, lovers for at least six years until 2004.
They are charged with conspiring to hack phones and to commit misconduct in a public office — paying officials for information.
Edis alleged Friday that Coulson agreed with News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman to pay police officers for two private royal phone directories. Some of the numbers in the directories were then targeted for hacking in the hope of getting royal scoops, he said.
Among the stories obtained by hacking was a claim that Prince Harry asked an aide to help him with an essay while he was a cadet at the prestigious Sandhurst military academy.
Edis said emails show Goodman warning Coulson that "if they're discovered selling stuff to us they end up on criminal charges, as could we."
Payments for the phone books were made to two false names, whose real identity has not been established.
Edis said Coulson must have known about the illegal payments and the hacking.
He was "a very hands-on editor" who was "interested in getting good, exclusive royal stories," the prosecutor said.
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- Andy Coulson
- phone hacking
- Prime Minister David Cameron