Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson said he was ‘shocked’ when he heard voicemails of David Blunkett ‘declaring his love’ for the married publisher of the Spectator.
Coulson told the Old Bailey hacking trial he initially called a halt to the story in 2004 - but later changed his mind and confronted the Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP personally.
The spin doctor told jurors it was ‘the first and only time’ a hacked phone message was played to him.
Coulson said he was first alerted by then-chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck.
“Neville told me he had a tip that David Blunkett was having an affair with Kimberly Fortier,” he said. “He believed the story was true because he heard voicemails.
“I was shocked because he told me he had heard some voicemails, and because it was in relation to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.
“My concern was it was an apparent breach of privacy, and I was concerned also this was involving somebody we were broadly supportive of.”
Coulson added: “I remember a message David Blunkett sent which was effectively declaring his love. He was also saying he had considered making the relationship public. There was a mention of terrorist arrests.”
Later, Coulson said he took legal advice and made plans to meet Mr Blunkett in his Sheffield constituency. The court heard a tape recording of that meeting in August 2004.
In it Mr Blunkett, who had then been divorced for 14 years, is heard to repeatedly protest he had a policy of keeping his private life private. He is heard to tell Coulson: “You are asking me to say I have had a relationship with a married woman?”
Mr Blunkett would only confirm Ms Fortier was a ‘very close friend’, adding: “I’m not prepared to go into bedroom talk now or in the future.”
The court has previously heard convicted hacker Glenn Mulcaire was involved in intercepting the voicemails.
Coulson, 46, denies conspiring to hack phones and conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.