News of the World journalists listened to voicemails left by princes William and Harry as they searched for stories about the royal family, Britain’s telephone-hacking trial heard on Friday.
Prosecutors said the revelations implicate former editor Andy Coulson, who later became British Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director and is one of eight defendants in the dock at London’s Old Bailey court.
The News of the World, which News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch shut down in disgrace over the hacking scandal in 2011, listened to William describe in a voicemail being “shot” in a military training exercise, the jury was told.
“There is a voicemail, recording of a voicemail, in which Prince William says something about that. So it’s a phone hack,” prosecutor Andrew Edis said, on day three of his opening statement.
Edis also read out a transcript of a message left by William’s younger brother Harry for the prince’s private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, asking for information to help with an essay.
Harry was at Sandhurst military academy at the time and was not supposed to ask for outside help, and the News of the World was interested in the potential misconduct, Edis said.
“I need to write an essay quite quickly on that, but I need some extra info. Please, please e-mail it to me or text me,” Prince Harry, now 29, implored in the telephone message.
The story made it into the paper in December 2006, and Edis said Coulson and royal editor Clive Goodman discussed how to publish the story without exposing its source.
He said that they decided not to reveal the subject of the essay as it was “too precise to get through unnoticed.”
“Everyone would know that they hacked his voicemail because obviously Harry and Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton both knew that this voicemail was sent and received,” the prosecutor said.
Coulson is also accused, along with former royal editor Clive Goodman, of paying a policeman for a palace telephone directory containing senior royals’ contact details.
Both men deny the charges, but Edis showed the court an e-mail exchange which he said provided the “clearest possible evidence” of this crime.
Goodman emailed Coulson saying the policeman was selling the “extremely useful” royal directory for ￡1,000 (US$1,600), and a payment for ￡1,000 was subsequently authorized, Edis said.
Also on trial is Coulson’s predecessor as editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, who went on to edit its sister paper the Sun before becoming a Murdoch executive.
The trial heard on Thursday that Coulson and Brooks had a six-year affair, covering much of the time the pair are accused of involvement in hacking, which they deny.
Brooks is also accused of paying public officials for information while editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2009.
The court heard that in 2006 she was asked to authorize a payment of ￡4,000 (US$6,400) to a member of the armed forces for a picture of Prince William dressed in a bikini and Hawaiian shirt while at a party at Sandhurst, where he also trained.
Earlier the prosecutor argued that as editor of the News of the World between 2003 and 2007, Coulson must have known his journalists were routinely hacking telephones to glean stories for a tabloid that prided itself on its celebrity scoops.
“Does he know about phone hacking? He says he doesn’t. We say: ‘Oh yes, he did,’” Edis told the jury.
The court heard that in May 2006 the paper was planning a story about television personality Calum Best, the son of late Manchester United soccer star George Best.
Coulson had e-mailed Ian Edmondson, the tabloid’s former head of news, who is also on trial for hacking, and instructed him: “Do his phone,” the prosecutor said.
Edis told the jury of nine women and three men that they would have to decide what that meant.
On occasions, the court heard, the tabloid hit the wrong targets — such as when it hacked the telephone of a hairdresser named Laura Rooney, falsely believing she was related to the England soccer star Wayne Rooney.
Murdoch shut down the News of the World in July 2011 amid a huge outcry over revelations that it illegally accessed the voicemail messages of a murdered schoolgirl, as well as hundreds of celebrities.