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Phone-hacking trial day three: prosecution opening statement begins - part one

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.

Trial: The Old Bailey in London

At 2pm today at London’s Old Bailey, Andrew Edis QC rose to introduce the Crown’s case against Rebekah Brooks, Andrew Coulson and six others to the jury. He told the jury that the origin of the case went back to the revelation that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had had her voicemail messages hacked “for the News of the World”, adding that it was “big news at the time” which the members of the jury may or may not have heard. He told the jury that whether they had hear the news or not did not matter, the case should be judged “according to what happens here, according to the evidence”.

Edis told the court that there were three kinds of criminal behaviour alleged. The first of these was phone hacking, which had been illegal in the UK since at least 2000. The QC defined phone hacking as listening to people’s mobile voicemails without their consent by using a passcode and that the News of the World had hired a man called Glen Mulcaire to do this for them as he was "very good at finding out the codes".

This ability to intercept voicemails was “very useful” for a newspaper as people considered voicemail to be private and intercepting it allowed the News of the World to publish information about people that they wanted to keep secret, he said. The paper could also find out information about people by hacking the phones of those around them, members of their family or people who worked for them, either to create a story, or to provide facts to “stand up” a story they already had but could not prove.

The second criminal activity in the trial was “misconduct in a public office”. People in public office, such as police officers, government officials and soldiers, are "often given confidential or secret information in the course of their duties, and are expected by the public to keep this information confidential". The allegation that some of these people sold information to the News of the World and The Sun newspaper was an allegation of a crime and a failure in the high standards expected of those in public office, he said. Edis differentiated this sort of activity from those of “whistleblowers” who came across a secret that they reveal in the public interest. Rather, these stories were about prominent people and their private lives and unlike a whistleblower, in this case “the public’s trust had been betrayed for money”.

The third strand of the case involved allegations of perverting the course of justice, which Edis characterised as being the concealing of information the police required to carry out investigations, or "hiding stuff so the police didn’t see it". After this introduction, folders containing the indictment (which you can read here) were distributed to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

Edis then told the jury that this was in essence a “simple case” with “quite a lot of evidence”. Glen Mulcaire, Clive Goodman and Nevile Thurbeck hacked phones while senior people at the papers allowed it to happen and paid Mulcaire to carry it out, he said. He added that the editors of the News of the World and the Sun “didnt stop it” and, indeed, were party to a conspiracy to make sure it carried on.

The second charge in the indictment, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by Clive Goodman and Andrew Coulson was also simple: “in a nutshell” Goodman wished to obtain a directory of members of the British “Royal Household”. He sent an email to Andrew Coulson about the price required to illegally obtain it and “Coulson said yes”, he said.

The third charge was the “same kind of offence”. Emails would show, he argued, that Clive Goodman asked if he could arrange corrupt payments to police officers and Andy Coulson agreed to it. He added that the police officers in question have never been identified.

The fourth charge related to Rebekah Brooks, editor of the News of the World from from 2000 to 2003 and editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2009. In his contention, a journalist on her staff wished to make payments to a public official, a soldier at Sandhurst military academy, of a large sum of money. The staff member told Rebekah Brooks and she approved the payment. “That’s how it works”, Edis added.

The fifth charge involved a “trusted official” at the Ministry of Defence who sold information for an “awful lot of money”. Edis argued that Rebekah Brooks had approved payments of nearly £40,000 to this person alone.

The final charge of perverting the course of justice happened after the Milly Dowler phone-hacking story had been published and was on the Friday before the last publication of the News of the World. A “storm of publicity” had broken out and police were investigating.Rebekah Brooks' personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, allegedly removed Brooks' notebooks from the News International archive before police could get access to them. Edis told the jury it was not possible to know what had been in these notebooks as they had vanished and had never been found.

The seventh charge related to Mark Hanna and Mrs Brooks' husband, Charlie Brooks. On that same Friday, Edis said that they had conspired with others to to remove computers and documents from the Brooks' country home and their London flat in a “complicated little operation” to prevent police finding them. Edis told the court that this was only discovered as a "result of an accident that was bad luck for the conspiracy". He added that the prosecution had photos of the event that the jury would find “quite memorable”.

After going over the indictment, Edis went on to look at other aspects of the case which we will report in part two.

Click here to view other posts from The Drum's reporter in court, James Doleman