Coogan claims he was the victim of Andy Coulson "sting"

Actor tells Leveson inquiry that News of the World used "sting" operation to reveal details of affai

"It's not the Steve and Hugh show," said Steve Coogan as he finished giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry, explaining that "somebody has to represent all those other people who haven't the stomach to be here." He rightly pointed out that he had never claimed to be a "paragon of virtue" or a "model of morality" and that fame was merely a "by-product" of his profession.

His appearance, although not as newsworthy as that of Hugh Grant, still produced one revelation in the form of an alleged News of the World sting against him. Coogan claimed that he was warned by former NoW showbiz editor Rav Singh in 2002 that a woman in Andy Coulson's office (Coulson was then deputy editor of the paper) was about to phone him in an attempt to entice him into revealing intimate details about his private life.

He told the inquiry:

Rav Singh, who I have counted as a casual friend, a friend of a friend, called me and said I was about to be the subject of a sting, I was about to receive a phone call, there was a girl in Andy Coulson's office who was going to speak to me on the phone; the phone call would be recorded; she would try to entice me into talking about intimate details about her and my life.

I was told by Rav Singh that Andy Coulson would be listening to the call and I would have to obfuscate when I had that phone call without betraying the fact I knew I was being set up so to I didn't land him [Rav Singh] in it

Coogan went on to allege that his confidence was subsequently betrayed by Singh, who he said orchestrated a successful sting against him in 2004. In a phone conversation that he said was secretly recorded by the NoW, Singh told Coogan, whose marriage was breaking down due to an affair, that he would leave out the "more lurid" details of the story if Coogan confirmed "certain aspects" of it. When Coogan did so, Singh gave him his word that the "more embarrassing part" would not appear.

Soon afterwards, Coogan claimed his manager received a phone call from Andy Coulson "saying that they'd recorded the whole phone call and they were going to put everything in the newspaper". He told the inquiry:

Rav Singh giving me his word was just a ruse to get me to speak on the phone so they could record me - at the time I was in some distress - to record the whole phone call so they could cover themselves.

He added that the alleged sting was "not a malicious personal vendetta but a dispassionate sociopathic act". Were such acts performed during Coulson's editorship it would be further evidence of the sordid operation he presided over.

Coulson is yet to respond to the allegations.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood