Coulson secretly listened to call says star

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson secretly listened in on a phone call designed to entice comedian Steve Coogan into revealing personal information, it was alleged yesterday.

Mr Coulson, who became Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director, was also accused of using a surreptitious recording of another call to the actor to betray a promise to omit “lurid” details about the break-up of one of the star’s relationships.

The star, best known for his comic character Alan Partridge, told the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards that tabloid newspapers were “like the Mafia”. He claimed other celebrities feared being victimised by the media if they gave evidence to Lord Leveson’s hearings.

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He described two alleged stings conducted on him by the News of the World to disclose details about his private life.

He said he received a warning from showbusiness reporter Rav Singh about the first, which was conducted in August 2002 when Mr Coulson was the paper’s deputy editor.

“I would receive a phone call which would come from Andy Coulson’s office. There was a girl in Andy Coulson’s office who was going to speak to me on the phone and the phone call would be recorded,” he said.

“She would try to entice me into talking about intimate details of her and my life. And I was told by Rav Singh that Andy Coulson would be listening to the call.”

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He said he took the telephone call but did not divulge any information and no story was published.

On the second occasion, in April 2004 when Mr Coulson had become editor, Mr Singh recorded a personal conversation with the comedian, the inquiry was told.

The actor said: “I was in a relationship that was breaking up because of an affair I had.

“He (Mr Singh) called me and said, ‘look, I want to help you’. I begged him not to put in some of the more lurid details of the story. He said that if I confirm certain aspects, the more lurid details would be left out.

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“The more embarrassing, which I know would upset my then wife’s family, would be omitted. After that, my manager received a phone call from Andy Coulson saying they had recorded the whole phone call and they were going to print it in the newspaper.”

Mr Coulson resigned as News of the World editor in January 2007 after the paper’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for phone hacking.

He was appointed as the Conservative Party’s director of communications and planning, becoming Downing Street communications chief in May last year until he stood down in January amid the growing scandal over the illegal interception of voicemails by the News of the World.

Mr Coulson was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives in July on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption, and is currently on police bail.

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Mr Cameron set up the inquiry in July in response to the revelation that the News of the World commissioned a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone after she disappeared in 2002.

Supermodel Elle Macpherson’s former business adviser Mary- Ellen Field yesterday told the hearing how she lost her job after being suspected of leaking stories.

Ms Field said she had “absolutely not” spoken to the media about the model.

The inquiry has heard that journalists obtained the stories by hacking the phones of Ms Field and the model.