Phone-Hacking Trial: Coulson, Goodman and the Royals
Friday morning in the case of R. Vs Rebekah Brooks and others opened just after 10am with the prosecution lead Andrew Edis QC continuing his opening statement. Edis began by discussing a story the News of the World was working on in 2005, which later emerged was totally untrue, that the then home secretary Charles Clarke was having a relationship with his special advisor Hannah Colby.
The story had begun with a “tip” given to the paper’s features desk that someone at Westminster who had planned to ask Colby out had been told by someone unknown not to bother as she “was with Clarke". He described the three ways the News of the World had tried to “stand the story up” to make it possible to print. Firstly the paper arranged to have a reporter to wait outside her home to try and see if Clarke visited, secondly Glenn Mulcaire was allegedly “tasked” to intercept her voicemails and thirdly Andy Coulson, the paper's editor, repeatedly tried to call Colby leaving two voicemails.
Edis told the jury that this was a team effort and it was logical that each member of the team would discuss the different strands. It was, in his words, a “rational but illegal system” and he then walked the jury through a detailed timeline of each part of the effort.
He then told the jury some of the other names of alleged voicemail interception victims found in convicted phone hacker Mulcaire’s notebooks. These were: Sven-Goran Eriksson, Abi Titmus, Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Nigel Farage, Delia Smith, Kerry Katona and Geoffrey Archer. Concluding his opening on charge one, he told the court that the evidence of the defendant's guilt was “absolutely overwhelming”.
Edis then moved on to charge two, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office which, he told the jury, concerned only two of the defendants, Clive Goodman and Coulson. The charge, he said, arose from the alleged purchase of directories of phone numbers of the British “Royal Household” sold by corrupt police officers to Goodman with the payments authorised by the News of the World’s editor Coulson. A total of 15 of these were discovered by detectives when they searched Goodman’s home in 2006, two of which had the fingerprints of police officers on them. However the person who allegedly sold the phonebooks to Goodman has never been identified.
The QC then brought before the court an email exchange he said was between Goodman and Coulson in January 2003. In the first email Goodman asks for £1000 to purchase the “Green Book” of phone numbers. Coulson replies that he had already authorised such a purchase in December to which Goodman responds that this is a better version of the directory as it has “The Queen’s own personal list of numbers”. Coulson replies “fine”. Stuart Kuttner, the paper’s managing editor, then sends an email to Goodman telling him the payment had been approved, under what he called a “deliberately cryptic reference”. Edis told the court this was the “clearest possible evidence” of the conspiracy.
The prosecution then presented to the court an email exchange between the News of the World’s financial department and Goodman. The financial team were concerned about the number of cash payments being authorised by Goodman, and ask if he can reduce this and “get more stories for free, old fashioned journalism I know". Goodman responds that he has three main sources, one he was trying to sort out bank details for, however the other two had to be paid in cash as any record leading to their discovery would lead to “Them, me, you and the editor [Coulson] ending up in jail”. Edis told the court this was nothing less than a “clear admission of criminal conduct”.
Edis then linked the royal directory purchase with phone hacking, referring to what he called the “Alexander payments”, Alexander being a pseudonym used by Glenn Mulcaire. While the directories did not themselves give mobile numbers, the information on them - landline numbers, addresses etc - could be used by Mulcaire to obtain mobile numbers by other means - “blagging” - and then, allege the prosecution, intercept the voicemails of the targets. Some of the names of these alleged royal targets could be inferred from notes made by Mulcaire to secure payment for his services, they were “Fergie, Wills and Harry".
Finally Edis brought into evidence another email from Goodman to Coulson allegedly again demanding cash payments for his source. He described the source as “Safe, productive and cost effective..a story goldmine". Edis asks why did Coulson not reply along the lines of “what on earth are you talking about?” He did not, contended Edis, because he knew the source was Mulcaire’s interception of voicemails. The court then rose for lunch.
The defendants deny the charges, the trial continues.