Weeting, Elveden and Sacha: the story of the Rebekah Brooks & Andy Coulson trial so far
"These things happen in the best organised cases, only time will tell if this is a well organised case." - Mr Justice Saunders, 28/11/2013.
Mr Justice Saunders
The trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and five others has now heard eight weeks of evidence. With the number of defendants and charges this was always going to be a complex case, so as court is now adjourned I thought it might be useful to summarise where we have reached in the evidence.
The full list of charges arose from three separate, but linked, police investigations. These are; Operation Weeting, the inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, Operation Elveden, a probe into allegations of corrupt payments to public officials and Operation Sacha, the inquiry into an alleged conspiracy to conceal evidence from the police. These names, we are told, are selected at random by a police computer. The jury at the Old Bailey has heard evidence from Weeting and Elveden but not Sacha.
On Weeting, there is no dispute that victims' voicemails were intercepted by Glenn Mulcaire, who has already been convicted for the offence. Transcripts and recordings of voicemails have been seized from Mulcaire's home and from a safe at the News of the World's offices in Wapping. The question before the jury is - did the defendants; Andrew Coulson, Rebekah Brooks and Stuart Kuttner, conspire in the commission of this offence?
You can find out more about the legal definition of conspiracy here. However in summary what has to be proved to secure a conviction is that the accused entered into an agreement to conduct this illegal act. The prosecution has shown the jury numerous articles from the News of the World it claims were sourced from Mulcaire's hacking. In one story shown to the court, voicemail messages from the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler were directly quoted, although these were removed before the second edition of the paper was printed. How, the prosecution ask, could all of this have been going on without the editors, Brooks then Coulson, being aware of it?
While we have not heard the full defence case, its outline can be partially deduced from statements made by the defendants on their arrest and by interventions from defence counsel. The defence argue that the editor had a wider role in the newspaper than checking every story for accuracy. These checks, the jury has been told, were the responsibility of news editors and the paper's legal staff. Timothy Langdale, QC for Coulson, has told the jury that the News of the World was a “story gathering factory” and the flow of information was “endless and continuing". Brooks told the police she did not ask "detailed questions on sources" as journalists preferred to keep these confidential.
A large part of the evidence the prosecution has presented is in the form of internal News International email traffic which has been recovered from various sources. The data is incomplete, much of it having been deleted. However the Crown claim that some of these emails show a knowledge of phone-hacking, highlighting one between Coulson and a journalist from May 2006 in which, discussing Calum Best, Coulson states "Do his phone". The defence, however, challenge this interpretation, telling the jury this email relates to an internal investigation into an information leak and not to voicemail interception.
The Elveden charges against Coulson revolve around his period as editor of the News of the World and his work with then Royal editor, Clive Goodman. When police raided Goodman's home in 2006 they found copies of Royal internal phone directories and the more detailed "green book" of the phone numbers and addresses of the "Royal household". The prosecution say that recovered emails between Goodman and Coulson that show them discussing paying uniformed police officers from the Royal protection squad to secure the directories, and indeed one of the books did have a police officer's fingerprint on it. The defence continue to deny this charge but so far we have heard no real detail about their rebuttal.
The Elevden charges against Brooks relate to her time as editor of the Sun newspaper and stories about the armed forces and the Royal princes. The court has heard evidence that a Bettina Jordan-Barber, who worked at the secretariat for the Ministry of Defence, was paid in cash by the Sun for military stories. Emails show, the prosecution argue, that these payments were were personally approved by Brooks. In her statement to police, Brooks responded to these allegations by saying "I've been shown emails, some of which I responded to. I sent and received literally millions of emails while being a national newspaper editor and it would be impossible to read every one." Brooks also states she had never heard the name Bettina Jordan-Barber and had no idea of who the source of these stories was as she "trusted the reporter". On the second set of Elveden charges, Brooks denies any recollection of paying £4,000 for a picture of Prince William or of remembering receiving emails related to it. In the end the Sun did not publish the picture and it has never been located.
Evidence from the charges arising from operation Sacha has not been heard yet. We do know from the prosecution opening statement that Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie, ex-News International security chief Mark Hanna and Brooks's secretary Cheryl Carter are charged with various allegations of hiding evidence from the police including seven boxes of notebooks belonging to Rebekah Brooks and various pieces of computer equipment. None of these items have ever been recovered.
Before court adjourned Mr Justice Saunders told the jury the case was running approximately two weeks late, but "like the trains, we hope to make time up on the way." It is, of course, not up to the defence to prove anything, they just have to convince the jury that there is, at least, a reasonable doubt can be cast on the prosecution case. The jury is scheduled to retire to consider it's verdict just before Easter. The "trial of the century" continues with all of the accused continuing to deny all of the charges.
Click here to read more from The Drum's comprehensive trial coverage