Police officer arrested for leaks to the Guardian, phone-hacking trial hears

By James Doleman |

January 23, 2014 | 7 min read

  • Police officer arrested in 2011 for "leaking stories" to the Guardian
  • Brooks called Dowler story a "a proper Guardian, old labour, BBC hit"
  • Judge reminds jury "just because something appears in newspaper doesn't mean it's true"

The trial resumed this morning to hear more evidence for the prosecution, the judge telling the jury that the evidence they would hear today related to leaks to the press from Operation Weeting, the police inquiry into phone hacking. The relevance of this, Mr Justice Saunders told them, was to what Charlie Brooks may have known about this issue on 17 July 2011 and what impact it may have had on his actions that day, when Rebekah Brooks had been arrested for the first time and, the prosecution allege, he hid evidence from the police.

Charlie and Rebekah Brooks

Detective superintendent Mark Mitchell of the Metropolitan Police anti-corruption command was in charge of "Operation Kilo" which began in August 2011 after defendant Andy Coulson wrote to the police complaining about information being leaked to the Guardian newspaper. As noted before, the names of police operations are randomly selected by computer. The letter named a journalist, Amelia Hill, and noted she was publishing information before it was released officially. The witness told the court he was the senior officer in Operation Kilo

Mitchell told the court he did find evidence of leaks and arrested a police officer, DC Peter Cripps, who has since retired, and submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS, however, decided to take no action as there was no evidence of money changing hands. Phone records recovered by police showed contact between the officer and the journalist before arrests took place. The officer told the court that the operation was "covert" and to the best of his knowledge no one outside the inquiry would have been aware it existed in July 2011.

Neil Saunders, on behalf of Charlie Brooks, then cross-examined the witness. He put it to the witness that "more than names were appearing in the Guardian" and a public statement was made by the police on 11 July on the issue expressing "extreme concern" at media coverage. The officer said he was "vaguely aware" the statement had been made but could not recall who made it and it was made before his involvement in the case.

The next witness was detective constable Andrew Nunn, the case officer for Operation Kilo. Charlie Brooks' barrister had the officer review a schedule of events leading up to 17 July 2011. This cross references telephone contacts between the journalist the policeman and newspaper articles or Twitter posts written by Hill after those contacts. There was, the officer agreed, more information in these than the police would ever release to the media, such as the full names of who had been arrested and which police station they were to be taken to. DC Cripps, the jury was told, was in charge of interview planning for Operation Weeting so would know in advance who was due to be detained. A further story mentioned was that News of the World staff had removed computer equipment from the desk of journalist James Weatherup before his arrest.

The barrister suggested to the witness that the story that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked by the News of the World and her messages deleted was also a result of leaks by Cripps to Hill. This, the court was told, led to Rebekah Brooks emailing the editor of the Times, James Harding, to discover from his crime correspondent what the source of the story was stating "this is a proper Guardian, old labour, BBC hit". Later in July, the Guardian published a story that Andy Coulson was about to be arrested. The police officer agreed that police would never release information about a pending arrest and that this, again, must have been leaked by Hill.

The judge then asked the jury to leave the court while a legal matter was discussed.

On their return Mr Justice Saunders told them he would give them legal directions at the end of the case but would like to tell them now that the fact that something appears in a newspaper doesn't make it true. As an example he told them the story that Milly Dowlers's voicemails were deleted by the News of the World was "now known to be untrue" and they should not treat newspaper articles as evidence.

The prosecution then called their next witness Singh Atwal, a forensic computer analyst employed by the Metropolitan Police. The witness told the court he had been asked to examine various items of computer equipment found in the underground car park of the Brooks' London flat at Thames Quay. The jury has already heard prosecution evidence that this was placed there by Charlie Brooks ahead of a police search on 17 July 2011. Atwal had also examined electronic equipment taken from the couple's Oxfordshire residence.

The witness told the court that all computers have a "device name" set by the user when it was set up. The items found had names such as "Rebekah's Macbook", "Rebekah's iPad" and "Charlie's iPad." User accounts on the laptops were given variously as "Charlie" or "Rebekah." Email accounts found on the computers was given as charlie.brooks@****.com, another was rebekahmbrooks@*****.com. [The Drum has redacted these for privacy reasons].

The court was then shown a document showing file creation, file access and Wi-Fi connection events for the computers found at Thames Quay which show some were in use on the days leading up to Rebekah Brooks' arrest on 17 July 2011 but not on the day itself. The expert was then asked about his analysis of the contents of the computers and the prosecution gave way to Neil Saunders, QC for Charlie Brooks, to ask questions about this.

Saunders began by asking about the recovered Sony laptop with the user account "Charlie." The analyst said the last recorded activity on this device was in October 2010. There was no internet browser activity after 2005, the witness said, and defence counsel asked him "not to go into any detail" about what was downloaded. The computer also contained chapters for a book called "Citizen 2". The analyst was then asked about the Macbook found at Thames Quay, and agreed that the clock on this device was about "four minutes out". The last succesful access of this computer appeared to be on 10 July 2011, although there was a failed attempt to enter a password on 18 July. Judge Saunders then intervened and asked "does any of this matter?" to which the defence QC responded that it was relevant to events around the discovery of the bags at Thames Quay.

The court then rose for lunch.


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