Phone-hacking trial: Court hears of Rebekah Brooks assistant's 'blameless life'

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.

    Court: Cheryl Carter

  • Cheryl Carter's defence completes closing argument
  • Former PA has led a "blameless life", court told
  • Defendant held in police cell for five hours after dawn arrest
  • "Not guilty" the right verdict
  • Proceedings resumed on Monday afternoon in what is expected to be the last week of the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and others over the alleged interception of communications and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

    After the jury took their seats, Trevor Burke QC rose to begin his closing speech on behalf of his client, Rebekah Brooks' former personal assistant Cheryl Carter. Carter, the prosecution allege, removed seven boxes of documents from News International's archive with the intention of concealing these from the police. Carter argues the boxes contained files relating to her beauty column in the Sun newspaper and had nothing to do with phone-hacking.

    The defence QC asked the court to consider "if there was ever a more unlikely character to sit in the dock at the Old Bailey" and reminded the jury of the character witnesses they had heard from that testified the former PA had led a "blameless life and was a good person with a very big heart, which she wears on her sleeve". "If the prosecution were right," Burke said, Carter had "consciously embroiled her only son in this criminal enterprise", and he asked the jury to consider from what they knew of the defendant how likely that was. "Cheryl Carter would rather suffer a thousand deaths than cause her own son be interviewed by the police," he added.

    Burke told the court there was no subtlety about the prosecution case. "They say her testimony is all lies, any witness that agrees with her is lying." The QC said that in 30 years at the bar he had always wanted to call an archdeacon as a witness - "Something pretty rare in this building," he said, adding "imagine my despondency when Mr Kuttner called the archbishop of Canterbury." "Ex," reminded judge Saunders to laughter in court. The defence barrister invited the jury that Carter's "impeccable character" was an important part of the case; "Gives it proper weight," he added.

    The court was then shown a note made by a police officer during the first search of the former PA's home in November 2011. He told the jury there were "some mistakes" in the defendant's statement such as her claim that on the week the boxes were removed Rebekah Brooks was at a "boot camp". The QC said the mistake was understandable as Brooks' personal trainer was visiting the office that week. "There are mistakes in the account she made," Burke said, but noted that his client had made the statement without access to any documents or legal advice. "She was just doing the best she could, rather than the lies alleged by the Crown," he said. "She was trying to help the police but they were not trying to help her," he continued.

    The defence barrister then turned to January 2012 when police came back to Carter's home at 7am and arrested her. "I don't want to make a federal case over this," Burke remarked, but told the jury that his client was not interviewed until noon and had been locked in a police cell for the intervening period. "Five hours in a police cell is a pretty frightening experience," said Burke. "Maybe that's why they do it." He asked the jury to note that his client had continued to say that Brooks had been at the boot camp on the week the boxes were removed despite the two having spoken to each other in the intervening period." He said that this "persistence of confusion" about the boot camp proved that Carter and Brooks "hadn't put their heads together" as would be expected if they were both involved in a conspiracy.

    Burke then reminded the jury of the statement of lead prosecutor Andrew Edis that if boxes in question contained "any old shit, not guilty, not any old shit, guilty". "That could have saved us a lot of time if he had said that at the start," the barrister remarked. He also disagreed with the prosecution's contention that an email sent by Carter the Monday after the boxes were removed was an attempt to set up a defence. He asked the jury to consider that his client had never told the police about this email. "It's not much good making a false defence if you don't use it," he said.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, the defence QC took the jury through Carter's working history at News International and the fact that she had been Rebekah Brooks' personal assistant through three office moves as Brooks went from being editor of the News of the World, to editor of the Sun, to, in 2009 CEO of the company. Burke then gave the jury copies of an email from July 2009 in which Brooks asked a colleague to "re-assure Cheryl about the move" to the executive offices of News International. "She was clearly nervous about it," he said. The jury were reminded that it was in September that year that the seven boxes labelled "Rebekah Brooks nee Wade notebooks 1995 to 2007" were placed in the archives on the weekend before the former editor took up the post of CEO. The defence barrister reminded the court that there was no evidence proving who had filled out the paperwork in relation to the transfer or that Rebekah Brooks had even been aware it had happened and that there were 31 boxes of documents relating to the former editor in the archive.

    Burke reminded the jury of his client's evidence that Carter could not keep the boxes at work as James Murdoch would have thrown a "hissy fit" if he saw them, which is why she had taken them home. Carter had also been involved in a copyright dispute over her beauty business and had testified that one reason she may have been keen to get the boxes back was to check if there were any documents that could assist her lawyers. If the jury concluded this was true, Burke said, "the prosecution's case is over".

    The defence QC then told the court: "I don't want to make a cheap point but I will anyway," saying that the essence of the prosecution case was that the boxes contained vital evidence that would implicate Brooks or other executives in illegal activity. "They are implying the case against the other defendants would be so much stronger if we had the contents of those boxes, jam packed with information about hacking," he said to the jury. He noted that despite all of the police searches no-one had ever located the beauty scrap books that it was agreed Carter used. "They have never been recovered," Burke said which, he argued, supported his client's case that these were what was in the boxes and she had destroyed them.

    The barrister then asked the jury to consider that despite their long working relationship, Carter and Brooks were not that close. "We all know that if count six had been taken in isolation the trial would have taken a week, instead she is dragged along in this juggernaut of a case." Burke invited the jury to consider that the Crown case was that Rebekah Brooks had denied involvement in phone-hacking to everyone and asked if she would really have confessed to her personal assistant.

    Burke finished his remarks by noting the trial had gone on for seven months, and asked the jury that even if they were of a "timid disposition" they should speak up for Carter in the jury room and get the right verdict.

    Court then adjourned for the day.

    Click here to view more posts from The Drum's daily phone-hacking trial coverage

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