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Phone-hacking trial day three: prosecution opening statement part two

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

After explaining the indictment to the jury (see part one) Andrew Edis QC then moved on to tell the jury more about the prosecution case.

Edis began by examining the legal definition of a conspiracy, noting that all seven charges on the indictment are of that nature. A conspiracy, he explained, is a crime where two or more people to agree to commit a crime. Whether they actually do commit the crime or not is immaterial: it is the agreement itself which is the crime.

To illustrate the point, he gave the hypothetical example of a man who hires a “hitman” to kill his spouse. If the man in question agrees to the potential murder, he has committed a crime, even if the hitman just pockets the money and does nothing. In this case the accused, he contended, had agreed to hack telephones, pervert the course of justice and bribe public officials. That in itself was the offence even without the actions he said had followed.

The QC then moved on to the history of this case. He informed the jury that two of the accused, Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, were convicted in 2006 of phone hacking but that inquiry had, he said, been “limited”. The inquiry that had led to this trial had been wider and had “revealed more”.

He then revealed that Glenn Mulcaire has pleaded guilty in 2013 to three further charges of conspiracy to hack phones, and that Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherall, all former news editors at the News of the World had also pleaded guilty to the same charge. He argued that the jury could draw the conclusion of “corporate involvement” given the number of people from the same organisation guilty of the offence.

While accepting that a free press was vital in a democracy, Edis put it to the jury that the “criminal law applies to everyone” and that phone hacking, and the resultant invasion of people’s privacy could not be justified and was against the law. Given the fact that three news editors of the News of the World had pleaded guilty, Edis claimed that it was impossible for News International’s previous defence that hacking was the responsibility of a single “rogue reporter” to be believed.

How, he contended, was it possible that three successive news editors knew who to contact to arrange hacking without the knowledge and approval of senior management? A mangement who knew Mulcaire was being paid over £100,000 a year by the News of the World at a time when internal memos show money was tight and costs were being cut across the organisation.

Edis then told the jury that telephone records showed hacking had been done not by Mulcaire, but had orginated from within News International’s HQ in Wapping. He alleged that this was “DIY hacking” where Mulcaire got the information but the actions were carried out by News of the World staff themselves, including the interception of other journalists voicemails to steal stories.

In the final section of today’s statement, Edis told the court that it was “the Milly Dowler hack that brought the News of the World down”. How, he argued, could editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson be unaware of the stories in their own newspaper. The News of the World was a weekly publication and did not take long to read cover to cover, “It’s not War and Peace,” he said. If the editors were doing their jobs properly they would have to know what was going on.

At this point the presiding judge, Mr Justice Saunders, called a halt to today’s proceedings. Edis will continue his opening argument tomorrow morning.

The accused, Rebekah Brooks, Andrew Coulson, Ian Edmondson, Stuart Kuttner, Clive Goodman, Cheryl Carter, Charles Brooks and Mark Hanna deny the charges. The trial continues.