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Phone-hacking trial: Search tactics under fire, officer accused of 'Carry On Policing'

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.

  • Jury hears details of items seized from Brooks' home and office
  • Police did not search for paper files - "You missed it," says QC
  • "This is not Carry On Policing is it?" Defence lawyer asks
  • 11 police officers in 5am raid on Brooks' home

As a member of the jury is unable to attend this afternoon, court got off to an earlier than usual start with DS Pritchard of Operation Weeting called to tell the jury about items found by police when they searched Rebekah Brooks' office at News International on 15 July 2011. Among the items found were two iPads, a Macbook, a Compaq desktop computer unit, three external hard drives and a "network box". Police also found five USB memory sticks and an "elite" laptop from the safe in the office. Electronic items were logged and left to be examined by a firm retained by News International, while others were taken by the investigating officers.

Jonathan Laidlaw, QC for Rebekah Brooks, then rose to cross-examine the witness. Laidlaw asked the witness if police had been informed in advance that Brooks was due to resign on that date. Pritchard said he had "not been party to those discussions" but agreed the office had been sealed by News International staff and a security guard was placed outside. Laidlaw pressed the officer on who asked if this equipment belonged to Brooks, "This is not Carry On Policing is it?" Pritchard insisted that he had no direct knowledge of those discussions taking place and referred counsel to the inspector running the operation.

Laidlaw then asked the witness if there were "any limitations on what you were searching for" and the officer replied they were searching for anything relevant and agreed that 18 out of the 20 items taken were computer equipment. Counsel then asked why they did not take any files and Pritchard said there were none in the "attractive but minimalist" office. The officer said he did not ask if there were files stored of Cheryl Carter, Brooks' personal assistant, ,and had no idea if anyone else did. "They were missed," Laidlaw suggested.

The defence QC then showed the witness a "filing list" from 15 July 2011 which showed "dozens and dozens" of documents being stored. Laidlaw asked the police officer if it was not until later, after the documents had been packed and sent to Brooks, that police tried to recover the paperwork. "Is your evidence I didn't ask anyone about the paperwork?" Pritchard said that he only had "consent" to set the office and that these were the parameters agreed with Simon Greenberg at News International.

The prosecution then moved on to 17 July and the police search of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks' London flat. Among the items found were "five DVD lists," an HP laptop computer, an Apple Mac computer tagged as News International property, recordable disks and four thumb drives. The police officer confirmed that Mr McBride, Rebekah Brooks' solicitor, was present during the search and had emailed another officer on 18 July saying he understood "certain items had been found in an underground car park" and these were "personal items with no connection with your investigation". The email continued, "We submit material did not fall under section 18 of police powers" that "no offence had been committed" and asked for the items to be returned.

Jonathan Laidlaw QC then rose to cross-examine on this search. He asked the officer to confirm that this was a co-ordinated operation as Brooks was asked to come to Lewisham police station and WAS arrested while police were already stationed at her Oxford home and her London flat ready to carry out the search. DS Pritchard confirmed there were three computers siezed at the London flat. Pritchard told the court that the solicitor McBride had tried to prevent the removal of two of the computers, the Apple laptops, by stating they belonged to Charlie Brooks and should not be removed. The officer confirmed that the search was carried out under section 18 of the police and criminal evidence act and took the computers for examination as one had a News International sticker on it.

Neil Saunders, for Charlie Brooks, then asked the officer about a blue notebook found at the flat and asked the officer why they took it. Pritchard said he had seen it contained names that could be "victims of phone hacking" and despite the solicitor's representation on the scene that it belonged to Charlie Brooks they took it as it contained names connected to hacking. Saunders asked the officer if he realised the book contained references to "rural affairs" and articles Charlie Brooks had written. Pritchard said he did not realise this at the time but the book was later found to have "no value" and returned.

Saunders then asked about another item siezed which was a torn piece of paper found in a rubbish bin. This he said was taken as it was related to Mrs Brooks' resignation letter. The officer also confirmed that not all of the thumb drives were found in the same place; some were in the small study and some in a filing cabinet.

The judge then asked if police had a warrant for the News International search. DS Pritchard confirmed that they had not and the search had been carried out with their consent and a protocol had been agreed on how evidence should be handled. The search of the London home was carried out under police search powers available after an arrest has been made.

Jonathan Laidlaw, QC for Rebekah Brooks, then asked to question the officer again. He asked the officer if when applying for a search warrant it was "essential" to give the magistrate the full picture. Laidlaw then asked about the officers application, in March 2012, to search the Brooks' town and country house and Rebekah's new office. A copy of the application was given to the officer to refresh his memory. Laidlaw asked about the part of the application related to Jubilee Barn, their Oxfordshire home, and asked if he had sworn on oath that the facts given in the application were correct. DS Pritchard suggested the document shown to him was not the one he signed and court took a short break while this issue was resolved.

When court resumed Mr Justice Saunders told the jury the documents concerned had not yet arrived and the court would move on to another topic so as not to waste time.

The next witness called was detective sergeant Jonathan Ellwell. The police officer confirmed to the court he had been involved in the search of Rebekah Brooks' Oxfordshire home, Jubilee Barn, after her arrest and had dealt with another solicitor acting on her behalf, Jonathan Grimes, who met him and his team at the property. The search only took 15 minutes, which the officer put down to the property being "neat and tidy" with no mobile phones or electronic equipment present. It looked like a "holiday home" the officer said, and no items were taken.

Neil Saunders, for Charlie Brooks, cross-examined the witness and the officer confirmed he had noticed a great deal building work going on at the property. The QC then showed the police witness his statement and asked why it was taken 13 months after the search. The officer told the court he had been asked to comment if there had been any "pornographic material" found. He told the court he had seen a "pornographic DVD" in an upstairs bedroom. DS Ellwell confirmed to the court he was present when it was found and said he would "classify it as lesbian pornography". Saunders asked if the officer was aware 13 months before lesbian pornography was found at Charlie Brooks' flat in London. The officer replied he was not aware of that at the time and that he considered the DVD to have "no relevance whatever to his investigation" and took no notes on it.

The next witness was Sarah Ritchie, a former police officer who was also part of the team who searched Jubilee Barn on July 17 2011. The former officer said she "remembered vaguely" a pornographic magazine had been found but could not recall the details. Neil Saunders QC cross-examined the witness and she confirmed she had only searched one of the bedrooms and did not find any pornographic DVDs and had only heard discussion of a pornographic magazine and recalled someone "holding it up" but could not remember who. Richie could also not recall when she made a statement about the matter and was allowed to step down from the stand.

The prosecution then recalled Detective Constable Karyn Millar who was part of the team who searched Jubilee Barn for a second time on 13 March 2012. The purpose, the officer confirmed, was to carry out the arrest of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks on charges of perverting the course of justice. When they arrived at 5am Rebekah Brooks answered the door and was then arrested and cautioned, as was Charles Brooks. Millar was the "exhibit officer" who logged what was seized in the subsequent search.

The officer said Rebekah Brooks identified a Blackberry mobile as being hers and it was siezed, as was a Apple laptop marked as the property of News International. Police also took an iPad with a News International asset tag which Rebekah Brooks identified as belonging to her. Police also took away for evidence another Blackberry and four iPods. Another iPad was taken from the office on the property. Rebekah Brooks also handed the police keys to her London office.

Rebekah Brooks' senior counsel, Jonthan Laidlaw QC, then cross-examined the officer. The witness confirmed that this search was part of a large operation which involved raids on a number of properties, including that of Charlie Brooks' mother and the intention was to search any premises "controlled or occupied by Mrs Brooks". Nine officers from Operation Weeting and two local officers took part in the search. Laidlaw asked if the officer was involved in the decision to conduct the raid at 5am, DC Millar said she was not.

Mr Laidlaw then asked the officer to describe the scene with police "banging on the door" without warning, and asked if she was aware of the presence of a very young, prematurely born baby on the scene. The QC asked if anyone discussed the impact on the family of a police raid at the time. Millar said she could not recall any but did remember Mrs Brooks carrying a baby for some of the time. Laidlaw asked if Charles Brooks was concerned about the police intention to raid his "81 year old mother's house". The officer said that he had been given the opportunity to call her in advance to warn her they were coming.

Rebekah Brooks, Laidlaw suggested, had turned on Sky TV and said "lets see how long the news breaks of what you are up to" and said that it the news had been leaked to the press by the police. The officer said she had no recollection of that discussion but did agree that Brooks had fully co-operated with the search.

Neil Saunders, for Charlie Brooks, then cross-examined the witness about the July 2011 search of the Oxfordshire property. The detective constable confirmed that the only item police considered relevant was a business card, which was returned the same day. The witness was then questioned by junior counsel for Mark Hanna, Duncan Penny, on her role in collecting the bin bags from the Brooks' London flat which, the prosecution claim, had his client's fingerprints on them. The police officer said she had not been present at the search and any information she knew about it came from Detective Constable Pritchard and it was only a year later when the issue of why the exhibit, which was originally described as two bags, was now described as three. The officer confirmed she had attended a "bin bag meeting" about it. Penny put it to the witness that this involved "significant resources of the Metropolitan police" she replied "not really". Justice Saunders told the jury that it was difficult to see where this "bin bag" evidence went but all would become clear later.

As documents had now arrived at court, Detective Constable Pritchard returned to the stand to continue being questioned by Jonathan Laidlaw QC on his sworn application before Westminster magistrates' court to authorise the search of Jubilee Barn and other properties mentioned above in March 2012. The reasons for the search on the documents given was that there was evidence an indictable offence had been committed and that evidence of this may be found at the property. The defence QC asked about the process when "privileged information" was seized and the DC told the court that it would be given to an independent lawyer to examine. Another category of evidence, the officer explained, was "excluded material" such as journalistic notes which may include details of sources. The application also states that police are giving no notice of the search as there are concerns evidence may be destroyed.

Laidlaw then asked the police officer if he "added anything orally" to the application when he attended the magistrates' court. Pritchard said he had "no recollection of that" but if he had it would have been noted by the magistrate concerned. Pritchard told the court he had been asked by Inspector Macullum to apply for the warrant and had consulted colleagues about its content. The witness agreed that he had to give "full complete and frank disclosure" of the reasons for the warrant.

Court then adjourned until 10am tomorrow

All of the witnesses deny all of the charges, the trial continues.