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Coulson 'personally listened' to News of the World phone hacking tapes

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New allegations of misconduct by Tory party spin doctor Andy Coulson emerged last night on Channel 4's respected current affairs programme 'Dispatches'.

An anonymous witness whose words were spoken by an actor appeared on the programme to recount his experience working as a senior journalist at the News of the World during Coulson's tenure as editor of the newspaper.

He told the programme that Coulson personally listened to intercepted voicemail messages. "Sometimes, [journalists] would say: 'We've got a recording' and Andy would say: 'OK, bring it into my office and play it to me' or 'Bring me, email me a transcript of it'.

"Andy was a very good editor. He was very conscientious and he wouldn't let stories pass unless he was sure they were correct ... so, if the evidence that a reporter had was a recorded phone message, that would be what Andy would know about.

"So you'd have to say: 'Yes, there's a recorded message.' You go and either play it to him or show him a transcript of it, in order to satisfy him that you weren't going to get sued, that it wasn't made up."

Coulson has so far denied knowing about any illegal phone hacking activity at NoW, but a number of private investigators and journalists who worked for the paper while he was editor -- including Clive Goodman, Glenn Mulcaire, John Boyall and Steve Whittamore -- have been convicted of bribing police officers, intercepting private phone calls and voicemails, and/or illegally procuring confidential private information.

The new allegations about Coulson's involvement with phone hacking goes much further than previous claims made by reporters Sean Hoare and Paul McMullan. Hoare has said Coulson "actively encouraged" phone-tapping, while McMullan told the Guardian "illegal activity was so widespread" that Coulson "must have known about it".

So far Prime Minister David Cameron has given Coulson his full backing. In a recent statement he said: "We take the same view that Andy resigned from the News of the World all those years ago for what went wrong under his tenure. He took responsibility then, and I feel that people are trying to punish him twice for the same offence. The question I would ask is: has anyone got any complaints about how the Downing Street press operation has worked since he took over?"

Despite Cameron's endorsement of Coulson, the story refuses to go away. Last month, a number of public figures -- including former deputy prime minister John Prescott, Chris Bryant MP, former deputy assistant Metropolitan police commissioner Brian Paddick, writer/journalist Brendan Montague, comedian Steve Coogan, TV presenter Chris Tarrant, actress Sienna Miller, footballer Paul Gascoigne, and jockey Kieren Fallon -- launched legal proceedings for judicial review and/or invasion of privacy.

Two other victims have already settled out of court -- publicist Max Clifford reportedly agreed a £1m settlement, while Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, received £700,000.

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