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Phone-hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks takes the witness stand for the first time

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.

  • Judge directs jury to find Rebekah Brooks not guilty on charge four
  • Rebekah Brooks' defence opens
  • Jury hears about her News International career
  • Met "New Labour crew" via then boyfriend Ross Kemp

After almost four months of prosecution evidence, the defence in the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and five others began today, firstly with Rebekah Brooks. Before the defence opened, Mr Justice Saunders directed the jury to reach a verdict of not guilty on count four against Rebekah Brooks, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, relating to a picture of Prince William in a bikini. This was due to a lack of clarity on the source of the picture.

Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for Brooks, then opened his case. He told the jury that "his first words would cause a sense of disappointment," telling them: "We are only at the halfway point, there is a still a long way to go in this case." Not only has the case taken so long, "perhaps too long" the barrister added, but so far, the jury was told: "You have only heard from the witnesses the prosecution wanted you to hear from."

The prosecution, Laidlaw said, had not been presented in chronological order, making it difficult for the jury to follow the evidence. "On occasion, absolutely critical information has been left out," he said, leading to the documents the court was given being "potentially misleading". It was "you and you alone", the defence QC told the jury, that had to make decisions in the case, decisions that are "absolutely critical for all of these defendants".

Laidlaw then set out various questions he wished the jury to consider. The first was that any conviction could not be made unless a "high standard of proof has been satisfied". "It is not Mrs Brooks who bears the burden of proving her evidence, we are not in the business of matters of preference, whose account you prefer," he said. Defence counsel then asked the jury to consider what Mrs Brooks was not on trial for. His client, Laidlaw said, was not being tried because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper. Neither was she on trial "for having worked for Rupert Murdoch's company, its policies' influence or corporate views." Brooks was also "not on trial for any political views she holds, or the support her newspapers gave to one political party or another," he added. We must be "fair and focused", Laidlaw said. "There are agendas being pursued elsewhere," the QC said, "you must ignore these."

Defence counsel then moved on to list the remaining charges against his client. Stating that his client had always denied these and had kept up the same denials since she was first arrested. "It is now time," he told the jury, "for you to see Mrs Brooks as she is, not as she is talked about it." This will take time, the defence barrister said, but this is "not Mrs Brooks' fault". He asked the jury to "please bear with us". Rebekah Brooks was then called to the stand.

Brooks then took the oath and began her testimony. Speaking in a quiet voice, the witness told the court she was born in 1968 in Warrington, Cheshire, and was educated at the local comprehensive school. Her inspiration for entering journalism came from her grandmother, who wrote a poetry column in a local paper, and when Brooks was around 14 she carried out work experience at the the Warrington Guardian. In 1988, Brooks took up her first full-time journalism job at the Post, a new publication set up by Eddie Shah. The Post, Brooks said, only lasted around eight weeks before closing just before Christmas that year. Brooks was then recruited by News International to work on the News of the World's "Sunday" magazine. The News of the World was unusual in Fleet St, Brooks said, in having a woman as editor and many senior female staff.

Brooks was then asked about what lessons she learned in the early days of her career. She told the jury that journalists around her were always talking about "sources and contacts" and she had quickly realised the importance of these and the need to keep them confidential. "That was the life-blood of the trade," she said. Asked about how she was seen at the paper, Brooks told the court one of her strengths was regarded as interviewing people for "human interest" stories. This also allowed her to build up her contact lists and, if people liked the article she produced, they would speak to her again over other stories. In 1992, Brooks moved from the magazine to the News of the World newspaper and in March 1994 was promoted to deputy features editor, and a few months later features editor. Features produced the "furniture" of the paper, columns, gardening, television pages, horoscopes and gossip, the "back of the book", as Brooks described it. It was also responsible for what the witness described as "buy ups" - for example, when a celebrity had written a book and the paper was due to serialise it.

In September 1995, Piers Morgan left the News of the World to edit the Daily Mirror and Brooks was given a "trial run" as deputy editor of the whole paper. The paper had a "strong relationship" with Max Clifford and the witness told the court she worked with him to break stories. "It was a pretty rapid rise," Laidlaw put it to the witness "to reach that position at only 27." Brooks agreed and the court then took a short break.

When the jury returned, Jonathan Laidlaw showed the jury a collection of articles produced by the witness when she worked at the News of the World features desk. The first of these was a 1994 interview with footballer Paul Gascoigne and his wife Cheryl about allegations of domestic violence. As well as being a good story, "it was a way of highlighting the issue," Brooks told the court and it led to Cheryl and her becoming "good friends". The story also "laid the groundwork for me doing this again with other people in similar circumstances," she said. Defence counsel then asked the witness how much the News of the World paid for the story and Brooks replied: "Around £80,000." This was "high, but not unusual" for such a "buy up" and was not the last time such amounts were paid while Brooks was features editor.

The defence barrister then moved on to ask Brooks about her role in a story about Divine Brown, who had been arrested along with actor Hugh Grant in Los Angeles in 1995. Brooks arranged for a private investigator in the US to trace Brown and offered her £100,000 for her story. To prevent other titles getting to her, the paper flew Brown and her family to Nevada. "It all seems so silly now," Brooks joked. The whole story cost, the witness estimated, with hiring a plane and accommodation, around £250,000. "She was very smart," Brooks said of Brown. Department heads had a great deal of autonomy about how to spend their budget, the witness told the court, but this did "do damage" to her normal spending limit.

Laidlaw then asked Brooks about internal competition between departments at the News of the World. Brooks said: "The newsdesk would almost rather the Mirror get a story than features get it." Asked if the two departments socialised, Brooks answered that they may on individual terms but generally not. Brooks was asked who ran the newsdesk when she was features editor and she named Alex Marunchak and Greg Miskiw. Asked about her relationship with them, Brooks replied that "there was sort of old school misogyny" and recalled a story the paper had about Alan Clark, a judge. Be careful, Laidlaw joked, and Justice Saunders said not to worry as "it's not me". Brooks said that after the paper had asked for tips from the public, her phone lines were cut and calls diverted to the newsdesk. The newsdesk also compiled files on mistakes she had made called "Twat 1, Twat 2, Twat 3" etc. It was a tough world, Brooks told the jury.

The jury was then shown the first edition of the News of the World edited by Brooks while the editor was on holiday. This featured a front page on the IRA bombing of Canary Wharf in 1996. "It was a big, serious story and I was on edge," the witness admitted. "I was trying to get behind the story in the News of the World way." Asked about the reaction to her performance: "We did ok," Brooks replied. Laidlaw then asked Brooks about her connection with "New Labour", which had come to power in 1997.

Brooks said Tony Blair had spoken to a News International conference in 1995 and this was the "start of a relationship between New Labour and the company". Brooks added that her then boyfriend, Ross Kemp, was a "card carrying member of the Labour party", and she had attended an education rally in 1995 where she met Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson - "the whole New Labour crew," as she put it. Brooks confirmed that both the Sun and the News of the World then threw their support behind the party.

Brooks was then asked about her relationship with Les Hinton, chief executive in News International who had worked for Rupert Murdoch since he was 16. "Like me, he started off getting the sandwiches," the witness said. Brooks confirmed that Hinton had made the decision to appoint her as deputy editor. "He was the big boss," she added. Despite his position "he was in the newsroom every day", and Brooks told the court she regarded him "incredibly highly". On Rupert Murdoch, Brooks said that in the late 1990's she had "some contact" with the head of News International and he would call most Saturday evenings from wherever he was in the world to ask "what was going on". Murdoch was "obsessed by news," Brooks told the court. He had also advised her to "take a strict path on any publicity" and "wasn't fond of editors appearing on the radio spouting their opinions". Brooks had told Murdoch that a magazine wanted to interview her, which led, she told the court, to a "grim reaction".

Brooks was then asked about another issue of the News of the World that she edited while the editor was on holiday. "I wanted to take the paper in a different direction, more campaigning," she said, and so she took a story about prisoners on day release. "I don't think it sold very well but it was a chance to do debate," she said. Judge Saunders intervened to say: "It doesn't seem to be a debate front page, it's rather a firm opinion."

"It stimulates debate," Brooks replied.

In January 1998, Brooks told the court she left the News of the World to become deputy editor of the Sun. The motive, Brooks said, "was to make the paper less blokey, although they still had page three and things". Brooks had been a founder member of a group called Women in Journalism and one of her aims was to bring more women into the industry. She felt that the Sun had become "too trivial, and needed more substance such as the local hospital having MRSA or knife crime."

Between 1998 and 2000 the Sun and the News of the World were very separate entities, Brooks told the court. At one point, staff from the News of the World walked past the Sun's office on the way to the canteen, and Sun staff responded by frosting the windows. If either of the papers had a big story they would "lock down the print room" to stop the other stealing it. The level of competition "was almost comical", the witness said.

Court then rose for lunch.

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