LONDON (Reuters) - Reporters on Rupert Murdoch's News of the World repeatedly hacked the phones of senior politicians and even rival journalists in a desperate bid to get ahead on salacious front-page stories, a London court heard on Thursday.
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, two of Britain's most high profile former newspaper editors, are on trial with six others accused of conspiring to intercept voicemail messages and make illegal payments to find exclusives when they ran the now defunct Sunday tabloid and its daily sister tabloid, the Sun.
"In the dog-eat-dog world of journalism, in this frenzy to get this huge story, and to try and get something better or at least as good as what everyone else has got, that is what you do if you're Ian Edmondson," said prosecutor Andrew Edis.
"You hack the competition."
Edmondson, one of those on trial, ran the news gathering desk at the tabloid when Coulson, later Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief, was the editor.
Edis said it was three emails sent to Edmondson in 2006 which ignited the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and ultimately led to the paper's closure.
Following legal action from hacking victims, the firm handed over the three internal emails to police, which revealed how to tap into the phones of senior politicians and royalty, the jury of nine women and three men were told.
Edis told the court at London's Old Bailey the discovery prompted detectives to look again at Murdoch's tabloids.
"They have had quite an effect," he said.
The emails were from Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator and accomplished phone hacker who was highly paid by the paper, giving details of the mobile phone PIN numbers that were required to intercept voicemail messages.
The phones belonged to then deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, ex-Labour minister Tessa Jowell and Frederick Windsor, the son of Queen Elizabeth's cousin.
The jury were told how the paper responded to news that Prescott was having an affair in April 2006 and its frantic attempts to match one its rivals, the Mail on Sunday.
The court heard the story was so big that Coulson authorized senior editors to offer large sums of cash to Prescott's lover.
"Start at 100,000 pounds ($161,000)," Coulson wrote in a quickly fired-off email to Edmondson, while Mulcaire, who has already pleaded guilty to phone-hacking charges, began to tap into the voicemail messages of her phone and that of the minister's aides.
To ensure that they knew what the Mail on Sunday were planning to write, he hacked the phones of two of its journalists, Edis said.
On Wednesday, Edis said Brooks and Coulson must have known about phone-hacking due to their senior positions on the paper and the fact they held its purse strings.
The jury was told three senior former journalists on the paper Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Greg Miskiw, had already admitted conspiracy to hack phones.
Brooks and Coulson and the six others, who include senior figures from Murdoch's British newspaper arm and Brooks's husband Charlie, all deny the charges.
The trial continues.
Reporting by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison