Disgraced former Number 10 spin doctor Andy Coulson returned to court today to fight a legal bid to make him pay £750,000 towards the cost of the phone hacking trial.
Last July, the 47-year-old ex-editor of the News of the World was handed an 18-month jail sentence after being found guilty of plotting at the tabloid to eavesdrop on private voicemails for scoops following the nine-month trial. He served less than five months behind bars before being released in November last year, only to go on trial again in Scotland on a perjury charge, which later collapsed.
The married father-of-three sat in the Old Bailey as his lawyer argued against an order to pay his share of the prosecution costs of the earlier Old Bailey case.
The court heard the Crown was seeking £750,000 from Coulson plus £111,000 from former NotW news editor Ian Edmondson, who also attended court.
Coulson’s lawyer said no more than £375,000 would be a fair sum while Edmondson, due to his financial circumstances, should pay nothing at all, the court heard.
But as Alison Pople QC set out her reasons for the reduction, Mr Justice Saunders cut in to query reports that Coulson was about to cash in from a book deal.
He said: “There has been a suggestion made that Coulson might be raising a lot of money by writing a book. I have no idea but that has been written in the press.
“I would wish to be informed if there is actual or current intentions or negotiations going on as to that.”
Ms Pople replied: “So much that is written in the press is outside the scope of these applications.”
But the senior judge pressed: “It was raised after the case in Scotland was finished. We don’t all live in vacuums as may be suggested.”
The lawyer replied: “Coulson doesn’t have a publishing agreement with any publisher. He has not been offered a publishing agreement and he is not writing a book.”
She went on to say that Coulson, who lives in the picturesque Kent village of Charing, had a problem with his mortgage before his conviction and it had been even harder since.
He has no guarantee of regular income now or in the future, making re-mortgaging impossible, she said.
After being shown a valuation on Coulson’s home, Mr Justice Saunders commented that it was “more than my house is worth but it’s not an astronomical amount”.
He went on to point out that Coulson was educating his three children privately.
Ms Pople responded: “His is relying on the generosity of his friends to educate his children privately. It’s a loan.
“Coulson was in an unprecedented public glare in the course of his trial. With the assistance of close and loyal friends he has been able to maintain that position as far as his sons are concerned.
“What the future holds depends on your Lordship’s order and his ability to work, and the extent his friends continue to be close and loyal.”
The court also heard of Edmondson’s financial state as his lawyer David Chandler suggested he should not pay anything at all towards the cost of the first hacking trial.
Last autumn, Edmondson, 46, of Raynes Park, south-west London, pleaded guilty to the hacking plot as he was about to face a retrial, having been dropped midway through the original trial with Coulson due to ill health.
Since he served two months of an eight-month sentence, he has been living alone in his four-bedroom house – worth more than Coulson’s – which is near to his children and estranged wife.
Mr Chandler said: “He faces regular rejection of his applications for work based on the outcome of his case. He has very little confidence in his ability to earn money, it has been exceptionally difficult for him to find work.
“His monthly outgoings are far in excess of his income. He has £5,000 in a savings account and equity in his home.
“He trudges the streets of London from meeting to meeting to find people who will give him work and it’s a constant struggle.
“He served two months in prison and when on curfew he was unable to attend meetings in the evenings or travel outside London for two months.”
He has had no News International funding and if he was forced to sell his house he would have to move out of London and away from his children to find a property which could accommodate their visits.
Mr Chandler added: “The consequences of selling the house would be devastating. Edmondson simply does not have the money to pay any just or reasonable costs order.”
Mr Justice Saunders reserved his judgement on the matter.