Andy Coulson's justification for exposing David Blunkett's affair in the News of the World, because the politician had let slip to his married lover there had been a terror arrest, was dismissed in the hacking trial as an "invention".
The former editor was being questioned in the witness box about a meeting in August 2004, when chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck played him hacked voicemails, including one in which Blunkett (pictured above: Reuters) declared his love for Spectator publisher Kimberly Fortier.
Coulson told jurors that the then Home Secretary sharing "sensitive" information about terrorism and his visits to GCHQ convinced him there was a public interest in pursuing the story based on hacking.
But the Old Bailey heard the resulting story never contained reference to either.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC asked Coulson: "If it's something the public ought to know why didn't you tell them?"
Coulson said: "I made a mistake."
Edis went on: "This public interest stuff is just an invention by you built around the voicemails.
"If the terrorism arrest had mattered to you in the slightest it would have been somewhere in this story but it's not is it? Where is it in this story?"
Coulson replied: "My mistake. I took the decision to follow a different path in the story."
He said if he had run the terrorism line, it would have led to calls for the home secretary to resign and "I chose not to do that".
Edis asserted: "What you thought was, this is a cracking story."
Coulson replied: "I certainly thought it was a story and something I had to give proper and serious thought to."
The court heard that around the time Coulson went to Sheffield to confront Blunkett about the affair, he exchanged texts and phone calls with on-off lover Rebekah Brooks, who was Sun editor at the time. But he denied telling her what he was doing.
He said: "There was closeness between Rebekah and I that the court has heard about but that did not extend to the sharing of each other's exclusives. There was a clear line drawn."
He said there was "no deal" between the News of the World and the Sun to share the story and the suggestion that there was, was "completely wrong".
Coulson, 46, of Charing, Kent, is charged with conspiring to hack phones with Brooks, 45, and others. The two former editors also face separate charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. All seven defendants deny the charges against them.
Edis went on to say that the evidence showed that Thurlbeck carried on hacking Fortier's phone after Coulson initially told him to stop on 21 July, 2004.
In light of the Blunkett story being published, judge Mr Justice Saunders asked: "Was there not a risk members of the newsdesk were doing exactly the same thing because they also got it wrong?"
Coulson replied: "There was a risk but I felt rightly or wrongly they would bring it to the attention of the lawyer or me."
The court heard that in October the same year, Coulson went to a breakfast meeting with a view to hiring reporter Dan Evans, who has previously admitted hacking.
But Coulson said: "I certainly did not know Dan Evans was a phone hacker."
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