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.
After a longer than usual weekend break, the trial of seven former staff from the now defunct News of the World on charges of conspiracy to hack phones, corrupt public officials and pervert the course of justice resumed at court 12 of London's historic Old Bailey. Taking the stand for the third day running was Rebekah Brooks, one of the two former editors of the Sunday tabloid facing charges. Brooks' defence barrister, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, continued taking his client through a budget document originally introduced by the prosecution and asked her to explain the context. In July 2001, Brooks told the court, the paper had overspent its budget by nearly £1m, so she was looking at where savings could be made. When a further email was shown to the witness, Judge Saunders intervened and asked that it not be read out as it was "potentially libellous".
Brooks was then shown an exclusive contract between the News of the World and a company owned by convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire. The contract agreed a weekly payment to Mulcaire of £1,700 for one year to provide "investigation services". Brooks denied she had seen the contract "at the time" or heard the name of the company, Euro Research and Information. The former editor told the court that even if she had seen the contract, the use of private investigator's was "pretty common in Fleet St" and would not have "given me cause for concern". The defence barrister asked his client who should have authorised such a large payment. "It should have got higher authority," Brooks told the court, but added if the weekly payment did not lead to a department overshooting its budget she would not have "much visibility on it".
The QC then asked about the extent of the use of private investigators by the News of the World. The witness told the court that during that period there was a "lot of use of private investigators across Fleet street and in other industries". They "did the leg work across many stories," Brooks told the court, and gave the example of tracking down "convicted paedophiles" as part of her Sarah's Law campaign.
Further email documents from 2001 were then shown to the witness for comment. Brooks told the court that the terrorist attacks on America in September that year led to fears of a global recession and a fall in revenue for the newspaper. She had therefore introduced cost-cutting measures including a recruitment freeze and the emails related to discussion about the necessity, or not, of replacing a senior designer from the Sunday magazine. Brooks said she was hoping to add a "lads mag in the style of GQ" to the paper's package and needed a new designer to assist with the project.
Brooks was then shown a document which showed that the Newsdesk, under Greg Miskiw, had undershot it's budget so much that Miskiw received a £1,000 bonus cheque. "In those circumstances, would an editor have any reason to look at the details of his budget?" the defence QC asked. "No," Brooks replied, and confirmed again that she had never heard of the name Glenn Mulcaire. Miskiw would only have told her that a story "comes from one of my best contacts," she said, without telling her who that would be. Miskiw, the jury has already heard, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications last year.
The witness was then shown email traffic between her and night editor Harry Scott. Brooks explained that as Saturday night went on she would receive copies of rival papers and see "if they had anything better than us". The phrase in the email "match the MOS on Hurley" meant take the details from the Mail on Sunday's story on Liz Hurley and add them to the News of the World's piece on her in their second edition, the court heard. This, Brooks told the court, was a common practice and was not related to phone-hacking.
Court then rose for a short break.
When the trial resumed, a new bundle of documents was given to the jury. These related to the case of Milly Dowler, a teenager who went missing in March 2002. Records show, the court was told, that Glenn Mulcaire accessed Milly Dowler's voicemail between 10 and 12 April while Brooks was on holiday in Dubai. Laidlaw asked Brooks if she recalled when users of mobile phones gained the ability to leave messages, and she replied her recollection was that this became available in the mid 1990s. The defence QC asked if and when the witness became aware that it was possible to "hack" a voicemail and Brooks told the court that it came to her attention in the late 1990s through publicity about the issue.
Brooks was then asked if she was ever asked to sanction the interception of voicemail as part of her duties as an editor. she replied: "No." The witness agreed there could be "an advantage" to a journalist using the technique, but that she had broken big stories without it. "I cant see how accessing someone's voicemail would have been a useful thing to do," she said. "If you were looking for celebrity tittle tattle I suppose so," she said. Laidlaw asked the witness what her view of the practice was.
"At the time I was editor, I don't think anybody knew it was illegal," she said, "but it was a breach of privacy and against the editors' code. The law around privacy changed while I was an editor," she added, mentioning the introduction of Article 8 of the European charter of human rights.
Laidlaw then asked his client if there were any subjects for which she would have sanctioned phone-hacking. Brooks told the court there might have been, and gave the example of another newspaper reporter who hacked voicemail messages to write a story about arms dealers. "I didn't know it was illegal so if someone came to me with the right set of circumstances, for example something to do with paedophiles, I may have done, but it just didn't happen," she said.
As for blagging, the practice of obtaining information by pretending to be someone else, Brooks said that the whole "fake Sheikh" operation was a form of blagging so could be justified if the story was correct, or a journalist phoning a hotel to find out if a celebrity had stayed there.
Brooks was then asked if she had anything to do with the hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail. The witness replied: "No, nothing." She said she had only learned about it on 4 July 2011 at 4pm. Asked to describe her reaction, Brooks said: "Shock, horror, everything really. I thought it was pretty abhorrent." The witness told the court that the original story had claimed Dowler's voicemails had been deleted, which she now knew not to be true.
The witness was then asked how important the Dowler story was to the News of the World. It was "very important," she said, but disagreed with the previous prosecution suggestion that her campaign for Sarah's Law would have made her follow the story more closely than usual.
"When it first broke, the suggestion might be correct," Brooks said, adding that her initial reaction was that they were similar stories, especially as both Sarah Payne and Milly Dowler came from the same area. However, Brooks said she had been "steered away" from the idea that this was an abduction story by her news team who had been in touch with their police contacts. "I remember early on being told that the police believed this wasn't the case," Brooks told the court, and that police attention was on Dowler's father who was, the court was reminded, later cleared of any involvement in her death. "There was clearly a focus on Mr Dowler," Brooks said.
The witness said that she was on holiday in Dubai when the 14 April edition of the News of the World was published and it was her co-defendant Andy Coulson who edited that week's paper. While she was away, they had been in contact but the Milly Dowler story had not been brought to her attention. It was also difficult to access emails from Dubai, Brooks said, as she had to "dial into the system" which was cumbersome and difficult. She would always have her mobile and her PA, Cheryl Carter, would always know where she was, but "I wouldn't be in contact every day," the witness said.
Brooks said she could not recollect the exact nature of her calls and texts to Coulson, but generally thought she would have been concerned about the "Michael Greco buy up" (the front page lead on that week's paper was about Eastenders) which had led to a bidding war between rival titles. "I think I did the deal before I left," Brooks said. The witness agreed there might have been a conversation about "missing Milly" but she had no recollection of one. "It's 12 years ago," Brooks said.
Brooks was then asked how her relationship with Ross Kemp was during the holiday. "Ross and I were in a good place at the time," the witness said. Asked about Coulson, Brooks replied: "Andy an I were always close, good friends, and that's what we were at the time." Brooks' QC asked if there was any "physical intimacy with Coulson at this period". "No," she replied..
The former editor was then given a folder containing all of the News of the World coverage of the Milly Dowler story but before court could proceed a member of the jury passed a note to Mr Justice Saunders. There was confusion over which page the orginal Milly Dowler story appeared on in the paper and the prosecution explained that there were two different editions of the paper that day. "Well spotted again," Saunders told the jury. The story was displayed on the court screens and, headlined: "Please come home darling. Hunt for girl, 13."
Court then rose for lunch.
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