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Milly Dowler phone hacking not bad thing to do, says ex-NOTW reporter

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Former News of the World Deputy Features Editor Paul McMullan

© PA Images / John Stillwell/PA Wire

A former News of the World journalist has branded the paper's ex-editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks as "the scum of journalism" in his explosive evidence on press intrusion.

Paul McMullan told the Leveson inquiry today that Brooks and Coulson, who both deny knowledge of hacking, had tried to "drop me and my colleagues in it".

Elsewhere in his evidence, he defended the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone by the News of the World, saying that it was "not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do".

Asked whether phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World, McMullan said that it "was something that might have been done as a last resort". He also confirmed that editors were aware of the practice.

"We did all these things for the editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson," said McMullan, who was News of the World deputy features editor between 1994 and 2001.

"They're the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it."

He continued: "You only have to read Andy Coulson's column in [The Sun's] Bizarre where it would just be littered with...'Pop star A is leaving messages on pop star B's phone at 2am in the morning saying 'I love you and shall we meet up for a drink?'. I mean, it was that blatant and obvious - I don't think anyone realised that anyone was committing a crime at the start.

"My assertion has always been that Andy Coulson brought that practice wholesale with him when he was appointed deputy editor [of the News of the World]."

McMullan also said it was actually Piers Morgan, who became editor of the paper in 1994, who allegedly "set the trend" for malpractices in the pursuit of the big sales.

"He was 'get that story at all costs' and 'I don't care what you have to do'," he told the inquiry.

"He wanted to be number one, he wanted to sell five million copies a week."

Morgan has not yet responded to the claims, but he is also due to appear soon before the inquiry.

Rebekah Brooks
Tellingly, McMullan said that the News of the World was "one of the least bad offenders [at hacking]", claiming that other newspapers were "much worse".

In startlingly frank evidence, the journalist gave a fascinating glimpse into the practices used at the News of the World and other tabloid newspapers to get a story.

McMullan recalled one time when he was pursing Katie Price.

"I missed Katie Price one day going into the hairdressers. And it was like 'God, Katie, be nice.' And she gave me the finger through the hairdresser's door and I thought 'Aw, thanks love'. I sold it for £2,000. She knew exactly what she was doing," he said.

McMullan also discussed the controversial practice of chasing celebrities in cars, a part of the job that he particularly enjoyed.

"We had a set of pool cars - about 12 - that you can swap around. I absolutely loved giving chase to celebrities," he said.

"Before Diana died it was such good fun. How many jobs can you have car chases in? It was great."

The Leveson inquiry last week heard evidence from the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered school whose phone was hacked by the News of the World after she went missing in 2002.

The family revealed the pain caused by press intrusion into their life, but McMullan said: "The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do."

Andy Coulson
He told the inquiry that his own child recently went missing for 20 minutes in his back garden, meaning he "felt the emotion that Mrs Dowler felt when her own child went missing".

But he feels that the process was not malicious in intention because the police force searching for Dowler was so full of "Inspector Clouseaus".

"We were doing our best to find the little girl," he said. "The police are utterly incompetent and should be ashamed that the killer was allowed to carry on."

McMullan admitted that he went too far with a story on Jennifer Elliott, the daughter of actor Denholm Elliott, who became a drug user and eventually took her own life.

"I really regret it because I'd got to know her very well and I really quite liked her. The fact she was begging outside Chalk Farm station came from a police officer, who had been surprised when he asked her to move on," he said.

"I went too far on that story. Someone crying out for help, not crying out for a News of the World reporter. I then took her back to her flat and took a load of pictures of her topless. Then she went on TV and described me as her boyfriend."

He added: "When I heard a few years later that she'd killed herself I thought 'Yeah that's one I really regret.' But there's not many.

"Sometimes I wouldn't have bought the News of the World even though I worked for it, but the British public carried on [buying the paper]."

Elsewhere in his evidence, McMullan defended the often criticised Press Complaints Commission, and claimed that privacy "brings out the worst qualities in people".

"In 21 years of invading people's privacy I've never actually come across anyone who's been doing any good. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in," he said.

"Privacy is evil; it brings out the worst qualities in people. Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it."

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