Phone-hacking trial: Brooks' QC cross-examines over payment claims

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, the prime minister's former director of communications Andy Coulson and six others began at the Old Bailey on 28 October. The Drum will be in court for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last at least four months, and will provide comprehensive updates on this blog.

The trial is scheduled to examine seven counts that include conspiracy to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Coverage will be provided by James Doleman, who was acclaimed for his exhaustive and responsible reporting of the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

When court resumed after lunch, the prosecution resumed its reading into evidence emails and other documents relating to stories on military issues that appeared in the Sun while defendant Rebekah Brooks was its editor. The Crown alleges that many of these articles were the result of a conspiracy to conduct misconduct in a public office and involved corrupt payments to members of the armed forces and civil servants.

Trial: Jonathan Laidlaw QC

A series of emails from Brooks to a Sun journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, congratulating him on a number of these stories was given to the jury, along with cash payment authorisations via Western Union. The jury of nine women and three men was then given another file of over 40 documents from a folder titled: "Brooks paying Betina Jordan-Barber." This timeline links together events such as Jordan-Barber's appointment to the Ministry of Defence Secretariat, the period she was on maternity leave and payments she received from the Sun for particular stories. It also links emails from Brooks authorising payments.

Mr Laidlaw, QC for Brooks, then rose to cross examine the police officer presenting the documents. Laidlaw asked the witness how long he had been the case officer on this particular part of the charges, the witness replied he'd had that role since about August 2012 and agreed he had been involved in collating much of the financial and other material previously shown to the jury.

The defence QC asked the jury to look at the timeline discussed above and put it to the witness that the first article in the list linked to Jordan-Barber was September 2004 and continued over a number of years until 2011, a period through which the country was involved in armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Laidlaw divided the stories into categories, firstly deaths in action, secondly injuries, thirdly stories dealing with alleged misconduct and especially relating to senior personnel bullying more junior ranks.

There were also other stories relating to less serious misconduct such as sexual misconduct and loss of army property. There were also, said the barrister, stories about problems with the welfare of troops and others on subjects such as equipment shortages. The witness agreed this was a "fair summary".

The witness was then asked if the Sun journalist had other sources for his stories other than Jordan-Barber. He replied: "I don't believe he did."

The police officer was then shown a document from News International listing contributor payments. The QC asked if this appeared to show other people being paid for stories he had attributed to Jordan-Barber. The officer replied that he had not done that comparison. Laidlaw suggested that since the police had this document they should have checked. He highlighted one story about drug use in the navy, which appeared to show a payment of £250 to a second source.

The barrister then asked the witness if he had done any work on the Sun journalist's "pre-notification" of the MOD, calling them the day before a story was due to be published and telling them a summary of what was to be in the paper. Laidlaw suggested that this was his "practice" so he could make sure there was no objection to the story on the grounds that it may put troops in danger. The witness replied that this happened on occasion but could not comment if it was the Sun journalist's usual practice.

Laidlaw then asked the officer if he recalled periods during the time in question when Jordan-Barber was on maternity leave, and that she had finally left her department in September 2009. The QC put it to the witness that there were stories appearing both while she was on maternity leave and after she had left the Secretariat. The officer replied that she was still paid for the stories.

Laidlaw then asked if police had done any work on what her sources could have been while she was not in the department. The witness responded that Jordan-Barber had been interviewed but he did not think there had been any investigation into where she got her stories from other than she worked in the MoD and therefore had access to sensitive and secret material.

The barrister then asked if the police officer knew Jordan-Barber was a friend to some of the people mentioned in the stories cited, for example the wife of Major Roberts, who was killed in Afghanistan, was a friend of hers. The witness replied that there was no way of knowing which stories Jordan-Barber got from which source.

When Rebekah Brooks' name first appeared on the timeline, the witness confirmed it was October 2006 when there was an email from the Sun journalist asking Rebekah Brooks to authorise payment for three stories. Asked if one of the stories was an exclusive, the officer replied that he had "tested the exclusivity" of a number of stories using a system called "Newsbank" on 3 December this year and believed it was.

The defence QC then brought into evidence a story about four soldiers being killed in Basra, Iraq on 12 November 2006. A press release from the MoD from the same day was read to court. It announced the deaths but not the names of the fatalities as the families had "asked for 24 hours" before these were publicly revealed. A Sun article from 13 November, shown to the court, did not name the deceased.

An "exclusive" Sun story from 14 November was then displayed in court, the "exclusivity" according to Laidlaw being that one of those killed had been a woman. There was still, the jury was told, no naming of any of the soldiers killed. Apologising for what he called this "pedestrian approach", Laidlaw told the court his point was that this piece was clearly not an example of the prosecution's allegation that the Sun was "going too soon" and naming dead soldiers before their families had been fully informed. The name of the servicewoman, Sharon Elliot, only appeared in the paper, the barrister told the jury, after the official announcement was made.

Laidlaw then went through the same exercise with the timeline over another story, an article about an army recruit allegedly being injured by an instructor, again arguing that nothing in the story could not have been discovered legitimately by the Sun.

The defence barrister then moved on to 2007, where, the witness agreed, while there were a number of payments to Jordan-Barber, they authorised by the managing editor's office with no evidence of any involvement by then editor Rebekah Brooks. Until an email later on in that year when the journalist asked for her approval for a cash payment for his "best military source", the police officer confirmed that no reply to this email had been located.

However, later in the year Rebekah Brooks did reply to a request for payment for the "top military source" with the words "of course". Further emails from Brooks authorising payments with the words "fine" or "thanks" were shown to the court. Laidlaw then went through a long list of stories asking the officer to confirm if the were "exclusives" to the Sun, either only appearing in that paper or appearing there first and later being picked up by other titles. In each case the police officer confirmed that they were.

The court then rose for the day, all the defendants continue to deny all of the charges, the trial continues.

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