In some of the most startling testimony yet in the British government’s investigation into press ethics and phone hacking, former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan declared Tuesday that departed editor Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks were well aware of and actively encouraged illegal voicemail interception. To a direct question of whether Coulson and Brooks knew phone voicemails were being intercepted, McMullan replied, “Yes.” Coulson and Brooks have repeatedly declared either their ignorance or denied that the activity was taking place. Defending the practice, McMullan said “I don’t think anyone realized that anyone was committing a crime at the start” and asserted that “Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool given the sacrifices we make, if all we are trying to do is get to the truth.”

In a weird way McMullan’s testimony came across as bracingly blunt in the face of unending serial denials of such activity by others. He also said hacking was “widespread” across Fleet Street and insisted the NOTW was “the least bad of the offenders.” He maintained at one point that “the hacking of [murder victim] Milly Dowler’s phone was no bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do.” He did not condone the actual hacking but claimed that the police looking for Milly were full of “Inspector Clouseaus” and that “we were doing our best to find the little girl. The police were utterly incompetent.” He also said the British people did not need an inquiry to tell it what to put in its newspapers, that the News of the World’s 5 million readers were the ultimate “judge and jury” its content. He also belittled the concept of respecting or protecting personal privacy. “Privacy is evil,” he said. “Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in.”