Andy Coulson, the prime minister's director of communications, personally listened to illegally-obtained voice messages from the phones of public figures while editor of the News of the World, according to a senior journalist and news executive who worked alongside Coulson at the tabloid.
The comments, to be aired on Channel 4's documentary series Dispatches tonight, represent the most serious set of claims made against Coulson by a former colleague. The unidentified source told Dispatches that Coulson had personally listened to recordings in his office, The Independent reports.
"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," the former executive said.
"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... it wasn't made up."
Previous statements made by former colleagues of Coulson's did not directly assert that Coulson had listened to or read transcripts of hacked phone messages.
One former colleague, Sean Hoare, told The New York Times in a story published last month that Coulson had "actively encouraged" him to hack phones. Another former News of the World employee, Paul McMullan, said that Coulson must have known about phone hacking, since all of the senior editors at the publication had been aware of illegal practices.
Prime Minister David Cameron has defended Coulson as the phone-hacking affair has unfolded. Coulson maintains that he had no knowledge of phone hacking taking place during his time as the editor of the News International tabloid.
According to The Guardian, the programme will also air allegations by MPs that News International threatened politicians on the select committee investigating the phone-hacking affair last year.
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