Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has acknowledged for the first time that he listened to hacked voicemail messages while he was editor of the tabloid.
Coulson told a London jury on Wednesday that he was “shocked” in 2004 when a reporter at the newspaper – owned by magnate Rupert Murdoch – said he had heard voicemails that showed Cabinet minister David Blunkett was having an affair.
Coulson said he felt this was “an apparent breach of privacy” and ordered the reporter to drop the story.
But later, after hearing the messages, he decided there was “some public interest justification” in running the story, on the grounds that Blunkett was being “distracted” by the affair and may have shared sensitive information.
“I remained shocked,” he said. “This was the first and only time a voicemail had been played to me.”
Coulson said he and the reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, did not discuss how the voicemail had been obtained and he did not know it was the “product of an illegal act.”
The newspaper ran the story about Blunkett’s relationship with married magazine publisher Kimberly Quinn in August 2004.
Blunkett resigned from government a few months later after acknowledging that his department had fast-tracked a visa for Quinn’s nanny.
Coulson and six others are on trial on charges stemming from the revelation in 2011 that the News of the World regularly eavesdropped on the voicemails of people in the public eye.
The scandal led Murdoch to shut down the newspaper and pay millions in compensation to hacking victims.
Coulson, who served as Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief after leaving the News of the World in 2007, denies wrongdoing, as do all the other defendants.