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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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