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Phone-hacking trial: Voicemail interception was 'approved corporate policy' at NoTW, court told

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.

  • Mulcaire only hacked Milly Dowler's phone to assist in finding her, court told
  • Phone hacking "approved corporate policy" at News of the World.
  • Thurlbeck claims Milly Dowler story "directed" by Coulson, Kuttner and others

When proceedings resumed, after lunch counsel for Glenn Mulcaire concluded his speech in mitigation by suggesting to the court that his client had "suffered enough" and should not be punished further. He also noted that Surrey police had known that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked in 2002 and taken no action. The barrister said Mulcaire was "at the bottom of the food chain" and his motive in hacking Milly's phone was to assist the police in finding her, not to obtain a financial reward.

Stuart Kuttner

Trevor Burke QC then rose to give a mitigation statement on behalf of former News of the World news editor Greg Miskiw. He asked the judge to note that his client had pleaded guilty and did not present any possible threat to the public. The barrister then asked for a reduction in any possible prison sentence as Miskiw had spent time under curfew while awaiting sentence. He also asked the presiding judge, Mr Justice Saunders, to take his client's ill-health and family circumstances into account. Burke also told the court his client was under a bankruptcy order, was surviving on a small pension and had no assets.

Hugh Davies QC then gave his mitigation speech on behalf of another former News of the World news editor, Neville Thurlbeck. Davies told the court his client was "no apologist" for phone-hacking and that he apologised unreservedly for his actions to the victims. The barrister continued, "the custody threshold is crossed, we accept that", but asked for the court to consider a suspended sentence with unpaid work.

The barrister then suggested that the practice of phone hacking was "widespread in the industry" and that stories with no public interest continued to be produced. Davies added that there was "a morally corrupting symbiosis between celebrities and sections of the press" and that this trial had led to "a necessary revaluation of the boundaries of privacy". He told the court that the advice Thurlbeck had received from his employers was that hacking was not a criminal offence.

Davies told the court that it was his client's view that intercepting voicemails was "approved corporate policy at the News of the World" and named a number of executives who approved it. The barrister said that Thurlbeck did not introduce phone hacking to News of the World, did not recruit Mulcaire, or have an executive role, unlike Greg Miskiw, James Weatherup or Andy Coulson. The court was told that the practice was known about by Stuart Kuttner, Andy Coulson and a senior News International executive and a company lawyer who we cannot name for legal reasons.

The defence barrister then turned to the hacking of Milly Dowler and the court was told that this was "directed" by Andy Coulson and managing editor Stuart Kuttner. It was they, Davies suggested, that instructed his client to send reporters to Telford to try and locate her after the contents of an intercepted voicemail was reported to them. "No one emerges with credit," the barrister said. Thurlbeck's QC told the court that it was Kuttner and Coulson who decided not to tell the police about the information on a possible location for Milly Dowler.

The QC told the court that his client had lost his job and his long and distinguished career was now at an end: "His professional reputation has been destroyed, he won't get it back." Davies also noted that News International had dismissed Thurlbeck for gross misconduct and had not funded his legal bills. Judge Saunders then intervened and said it was "incredibly sad that talented investigative journalists had not come clean after all" to which the defence barrister replied that his client did not want to give evidence against former friends and colleagues such as Andy Coulson. The court was then read character references for Thurlbeck from his vicar and an ex-service charity.

The barrister for James Weatherup, another former news editor, then rose to make a speech in mitigation. He began by telling the court that when his client joined the paper her was instructed to use the services of Glenn Mulcaire. The court was told that these instructions came from Andy Coulson, Stuart Kuttner and another senior journalist we cannot name for legal reasons.

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James Doleman

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