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.
Proceedings at the trial of employees at the now defunct tabloid the News of the World resumed this morning at London's Old Bailey with further evidence on one charge against the paper's former managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, on one charge of conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemail communications between 2002 and 2006. The morning opened with two character witnesses, the first being Lord Black of Brentford.
Black told the court he was a former director of the press complaints commission and came into contact with Kuttner, who he described as a "very important figure in the newspaper industry", in 1996. The witness said he often consulted the former managing editor over difficult issues that arose in the course of his work. "He never let me down," Black told the court, giving the example of Kuttner's help over changes to the PCC code of conduct after the death of Princess Diana.
The witness told the court that Kuttner was "the reporter's reporter" and would never play fast and loose with the rules. "He didn't just talk about ethics, he believes in them." Black added that Kuttner was a great family man and "I am proud to have him as a friend."
The next witness called by Kuttner's barrister was Sarah Payne. After swearing the oath Payne told the court that she met the defendant after her daughter was abducted and murdered in 2000 and she launched a campaign names after her "Sarah's law" which aimed to give information to parents when sex offenders lived in their area. Payne told the court she had been in contact with Kuttner "constantly" since then and considered him and his wife Sylvia to be close friends. "Stuart is a gentlemen, he is a good guy who has taught me an awful lot," Payne told the court. The witness was then shown an article she wrote for the final edition of the News of the World in July 2011, this reads in part "it is easy to forget that in these dark times the News of the World was often a force for good" and "was full of great people I have come to know and respect." Payne agreed that was her view then and nothing since had changed her opinion.
Jonthan Laidlaw QC, for Rebekah Brooks, then rose to cross-examine the witness. Payne told the court about the former editor's role in her campaign and told the jury that Brooks "was personally committed to the cause and did lot's of work behind the scenes, she is very sweet natured and we are both very direct". Payne then stepped down from the stand to be replaced by Stuart Kuttner.
Andrew Edis QC, the lead prosecuting barrister, continued his cross-examination of the defendant by asking if he was ever consulted by editors about the PCC code. "All editors would ask me from time to time if an issue fell under the code," the witness replied. Edis asked if he recalled any conversations about paying public officials. "No I don't sir," Kuttner replied. On phone hacking the defendant said "that was not an issue I knew anything about". The prosecutor pointed to a section of the PCC code that discusses the interception of telephone calls "as an industry expert are you really saying you know nothing about phone hacking" adding "do you think it's alright if it's in the public interest?" "My attitude is that if a journalist said he had some evidence of corruption or something of a serious character it would be worthy of consideration, but no-one ever asked me." "If someone asked you if they could hack a phone to find a missing girl would you agree to it," the barrister asked. "No I wouldn't," the defendant replied.
The prosecutor then returned to the issue of Kuttner's management style and asked him about a July 2005 email he received from a journalist, who we cannot name for legal reasons, about "special checks" on Jude Law and Sienna Miller by previous witness Dan Evans. "Why would you be copied in, is it normal for you to get emails like this," Edis asked. "I think the author just sent this round to everyone around, I have no recollection of it," Kuttner replied adding: "I had no recollection of him until I saw him on television outside this court."
The witness was then shown an expenses claim from Dan Evans for two "pay as you go" mobile phones and £200 worth of credits for them. Kuttner said he did not know anything about the claim or what Evans did for the paper. The prosecutor asked why this claim was approved when Evans had already been issued a company mobile phone. "It certainly bears my signature," Kuttner said, adding the claim "was around the hundreds and thousands of claims I saw every year, I probably looked at the total and decided it was not too bad and signed it." Kuttner then claimed that police had changed his statement four times to alter "macro-management to micro-management". Edis replied that the statement was on tape and there was an agreed transcript. "I completely disagree," Kuttner said.
The prosecution barrister then turned to the defendant's contacts with Surrey police over the News of the World's coverage of the disappearance of teenager Milly Dowler. Kuttner said he now remembered calling Surrey police with information that had been made known to him, but was instead put through to the press office. "I wanted to speak to a police officer not a press officer," he told the court. Edis suggested to the witness that this would have been an important case for the paper due to the "synergy" it would have with their Sarah's Law campaign and agreed that the paper offered a reward of £50,000 for information on Milly Dowler.
Edis then asked the witness why he had not mentioned the first telephone call to police when he was first being interviewed until they showed him an email he sent discussing it. "It was not uppermost in my mind," Kuttner replied. "There is no mystery about the Milly Dowler case, I gave the police all of the information that was given to me," he added. The prosecutor asked, "did you know where the information came from?" "Even if I had I would have still told the police," Kuttner replied.
Court then took a short break.
When the jury returned Andrew Edis QC asked the witness again why he did not give any explanation to the police where the News of the World had got the information about Milly Dowler's voicemail messages. "That's because I didn't know," Kuttner replied. Edis showed the court an email from Kuttner to the police offering a tape of the voicemails. "You knew there was a recording of messages left on Milly Dowler's phone, did you ask anyone where we got this from," Edis asked "It seems to me I probably would have known at the time, that it had been obtained from Milly Dowler's phone." "From hacking," Edis asked. "From whatever method they used at the time," Kuttner replied. "You must have known that someone had illegally intercepted her voicemail," the prosecutor suggested. "I don't accept that," the defendant replied. "It was perfectly obvious that someone from the News of the World had hacked her phone," the prosecutor said. "If I could have remembered what happened eight or nine years ago I would have told the police," Kuttner responded.
The witness was then shown the original News of the World article about Milly Dowler that contained direct quotes from her voicemails which he read through a large magnifying glass. In the third edition of the paper the story was changed to remove the quotes and Edis asked if it was only the editor could have made that decision. "I don't necessarily accept that," Kuttner replied. The prosecutor asked the former managing editor if he was aware of the articles at the time. "Not that I recall," Kuttner replied.
Edis then suggested to the witness that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked on a Friday afternoon but this was not passed on to police until Saturday evening. "Do you know who made that decision," the prosecutor asked. "No I do not," Kuttner replied, but agreed it may have been then news editor Neville Thurlbeck. "Mr Thurlbeck had tasked Glenn Mulcaire to hack the voicemail, did he tell you that" Edis asked. "No he did not," the defendant responded. Judge Saunders then intervened and suggested to the witness that Thurlbeck "told the police he had hacked the phone so it's strange he did not tell you". "He did not tell me," Kuttner replied. "This hack was no secret," Edis said "the hacking of celebrities was but in this case people believed it was in the public interest". "I reject that sir," the defendant replied, adding that he would "no more hold back information from the parents than fly to the dark side of the moon".
Kuttner was then shown an expenses form in which a journalist claims for petrol while investigating Milly Dowler "answerphone messages". "This is the Friday afternoon, did no one tell you until the Saturday," Edis asked. "That's right," the defendant replied. "You just signed off the expenses without querying the timing, that's not very macro of you," the barrister responded, asking Kuttner: "You were active on the Milly Dowler case on the Friday afternoon and her voicemails were no secret were they?" "No one told me about them," Kuttner replied and denied the suggestion that he was trying to "police the police".
The defendant was then shown a budget document he prepared in relation to the Dowler story estimating that the cost would be around £2000. Kuttner said that this would relate to hotel bills and travelling expenses for journalists and he often produced costings for stories "so they would no come as a surprise". Kuttner was then asked if he told then editor Rebekah Brooks about the tape of Dowler's voicemail when she returned from Dubai the following Monday. "I did not," the defendant replied. "So you remember that," the prosecutor asked. "I mean I have no recollection of that," the defendant replied.
The prosecutor then suggested to the witness that he would have told Brooks what he had done on the story including emailing police about Milly Dowler's voicemail. "Not necessarily," Kuttner replied and told the court he was only seeking to ensure the paper reported the story accurately. Edis asked the defendant if he been asked by anyone else to contact the police, and if the editor was personally interested in this story. "I think the editor would be interested in any story in their newspaper," Kuttner replied.
Court then rose for lunch.
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