Phone-hacking trial: Ownership of computers questioned and police accused of 'bias'

By James Doleman |

January 23, 2014 | 7 min read

  • Court debates ownership of computers
  • Rebekah Brooks shakes head as internal News International documents shown in court
  • Police challenged over "bias" in investigation

When court resumed the jury continued to hear evidence from forensic computer analyst Tajavinder Atwal. Under questioning from Neil Saunders, QC for defendant Charlie Brooks, the witness continued to go through detailed evidence about computer equipment found in the underground car park of the Brooks' London home on 18 July 2011. The jury has already heard that these were discovered by a cleaner and then handed to the police. The witness described when the computers were activated, what the user names were and what email accounts and applications were present.

Trial: The Old Bailey in London

One iPad belonging to Charlie Brooks had the applications: Racing Post, Sky Sports and Angry Birds installed. The witness was asked if he knew what Angry Birds was and he replied "my wife does", which led to laughter in court. The jury was also told that despite not being an employee Charlie Brooks had a News International email account. The jury was then shown a redacted list of emails recovered from the iPad and the witness confirmed Mr Brooks was either the sender or recipient of all of them.

Jonthan Laidlaw QC, for Rebekah Brooks, then addressed the court. He told the jury that his client's case was that none of the electronic devices found in the car park were used by her, even though two of them were tagged as News International assets. The witness said that deciding who actually used a computer was the "most difficult question we are ever asked". The defence barrister said that in a "well organised family" each person would have a different account but in others everyone would just share the same machine. Laidlaw told the court that just because a user account on one laptop was named "Rebekah", this did not prove it was her device. Laidlaw revealed that the two iPads seized by police in March 2012 were issued by News International to Brooks after her resignation as CEO in July 2011.

The next witness was detective sergeant Hailey Broom, a member of the team involved with Operation Sacha, the investigation into an alleged attempt to hide evidence from the police by Rebekah Brooks, Charlie Brooks and News International security chief Mark Hanna. The officer told the court that she had examined the contents of the three computers from the car park and concluded that the Sony laptop was used by Charlie Brooks. The Apple laptop, the officer said, had photos from a holiday in Corfu that the Brookses had taken with Rupert Murdoch, invoices for wine purchases and horse riding photos. She had concluded that the predominant user of this device was again Charlie Brooks. There was, however, some News International documents, one headed "durabilty and growth", which contained forecasts for spending and revenue. As Rebekah Brooks shook her head in the dock, Justice Saunders asked if these should be put in the public domain as they contained confidential information. The court then took a short break while the issue was discussed.

When the jury returned two other documents were shown to the court; a draft of an editorial on "Labour failings" to be "approved by JRM", and a letter on a speech Brooks was to give which said: "I've always thought journalists should be read and not heard, although that has not done my friend Piers Morgan any harm."

Neil Saunders, for Charlie Brooks, then asked the officer about the devices and she agreed with the court that it "became clear very quickly" that the devices in the car park were predominately used by his client, not Rebekah Brooks. The officer confirmed that the the Sony laptop contained "25 images of female nudity" including "female masturbation" and lesbian sexual activity of a "similar nature to the DVDs found in the same bag".

Saunders then turned to the four News International documents found on the Apple laptop and asked if the officer had noted the dates they were produced. The detective sergeant said she had not. The defence counsel suggested the letter about the speech was from March 2010 and the draft editorial from September 2009. These, he suggested, had been given to Charlie Brooks by his wife, but at this point the judge intervened and said that was an issue that the jury had to decide.

Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for Rebekah Brooks, then rose to cross-examine the police officer. He asked her about the Apple laptop and a statement she had made that she was examining the laptop to "disprove the possible defence that the device belonged to Charlie Brooks". The officer agreed that was the case and was asked why she was not "approaching the evidence with an open mind" instead of "pursuing an agenda". The officer stated that is what she had done and the defence lawyer suggested this was indicative of the police not having an open mind in this case.

Laidlaw suggested that police were aware that Charlie Brooks was issued News International equipment. The officer said she was not but did agree that the only email accounts found on the two tagged items did belong to him, not his wife. The significance of Charlie Brooks having a News International account, the officer said, was believed to be to improve communications between him and Brooks' personal assistants. Laidlaw put it to the witness that four files out of thousands did not show Brooks was a user of the Apple Mac computer. The officer said she was comfortable with her evidence.

Mark Bryant-Heron for the prosecution then re-examined the witness. The officer told him she had not taken a biased view of the evidence and had conducted her investigation properly.

Court then rose for the day.

All of the remaining defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues.

Click here to view more posts from The Drum's daily phone-hacking trial coverage


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