THE man who launched Andy Coulson’s journalism career at the Echo has been left shocked after the former No 10 communications chief was found guilty of phone hacking.

Wickford-born Coulson, 46, who was forced to resign as head of communications at Downing Street over the scandal, has spent the past seven years denying he knew phone hacking was rife at the News of the World, where he was editor.

He worked at the Echo for three years after joining as a trainee reporter in 1988, before going on to join the Sun’s Bizarre gossip column, and being appointed editor of News of the World aged just 34.

Coulson, now of Charing, Kent, quit after taking “ultimate responsibility” when royal correspondent Clive Goodman was convicted of phone hacking in January 2007, but always claimed he knew nothing about the conspiracy.

Yesterday he was convicted of conspiring to hack phones following eight days of deliberations by a jury at the Old Bailey.

Peter Owen, who was deputy editor of the Echo at the time Coulson worked on the paper, said: “It was his ambition and determination which really stood out. He first came to us when he was 15 looking for work experience, but I said he had to go back to school and finish his A-levels first.

“Everyone who knew him when he was at the Echo thought he was a very decent guy, he was just a natural.

“As far as I’m concerned he was straight and I’m shocked by the verdict. When I last spoke to him he was anxious to get into the witness box to give his side of the story, and his priority was his wife and sons.

“I know he will be very concerned about them now.”

The jury is still considering further charges against Coulson of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying police officers.

Rebecca Brooks, ex-News International chief executive and Coulson’s predecessor at the News of the World, was cleared of any involvement in the phone hacking scandal.

Her husband Charlie Brooks, secretary Cheryl Carter, and former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner were also found not guilty.

Coulson will be sentenced at a later date.