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Rebekah Brooks Phone-Hacking Trial

Phone-hacking trial: Sophie Wessex and the 'bin man'

By James Doleman

February 21, 2014 | 7 min read

  • News of the World used "bin man" to check rubbish for information
  • Sophie Wessex story ran after letter leak
  • Trial adjourns until Tuesday

Court resumed this afternoon to continue to hear evidence from former News of the World and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks. Jonathan Laidlaw QC, her defence barrister, took the witness through a folder of documents presented by the prosecution. The first of these was an email exchange from 2000 relating to a former News of the World journalist Neville Thurlbeck. In the first of these, Brooks stated: "I need to promote Neville." There was then discussion about a rise in his salary and when this was refused Brooks insisted that it be approved as "he has battled through a trial, and been on bail for two years, we have a duty to look after this man". Asked about the context, the witness told the court that Thurlbeck had been chief crime reporter and after his arrest and trial she had thought it best to move him to a different area of reporting. Thurlbeck was promoted to deputy investigations editor.

Evidence: The Sophie Wessex story was discussed in court

The next prosecution document was a letter sent by Brooks to the General Medical Council explaining the News of the World was planning on exposing a doctor for alleged malpractice and asking for comment. Laidlaw told the court that the prosecution had used this to show that, as editor, Brooks was involved in the detail of stories. The witness said that in this case "I was". An invoice from convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire to News of the World news editor Greg Miskiw was shown to Brooks, who told the court she had never seen it and even if she had, nothing in its content mentioned hacking. Brooks told the court that one private detective, known as the "bin man", went through the rubbish of lawyers and high profile people and sold any information he found there. The paper also used private detectives to trace convicted sex offenders as part of the Sarah's Law campaign.

Further emails about the details of the production of the News of the World were then shown to the court.

Brooks was then asked about a story in the paper about Sophie Wessex, the wife of Prince Edward. The witness told the court she had received information from a former employee that Wessex was obtaining clients for her PR agency through offering access to the Royal Family. One of her journalists, Mazher Mahmood, was sent to do a "fake sheikh" operation where he posed as a wealthy arab and contacted Wessex pretending to be a potential client. These investigations, Brooks said, were very costly as Mahmood would "live the life of a rich sheikh, with a penthouse flat". The witness told the court that she felt this story was "in the public interest" however despite the months of work, Brooks decided the evidence did not prove the case against Wessex although it did show her business partner was promising Royal access.

Brooks told the court she phoned Buckingham Palace and either they or she suggested that if Sophie Wessex agreed to do an interview the News of the World would not run the story about the business partner. During the investigation, Wessex had made "horribly indiscreet remarks" about members of the Royal family and politicians, especially Tony Blair, and sent letters of apology. The accused said that the letters had been leaked and this became a different story the paper had run as a front page exclusive and five pages of further reporting under the headline "what Sophie really said".

This, Laidlaw suggested, explained email traffic presented by the prosecution as proof of Brooks' deep involvement in the story. "It was my job," Brooks said. An email from Brooks to Coulson marked "for Greg" was was then shown to the court stating: "We must learn some lessons from Sophie, all our entrapment and subterfuge has to be justified 100% and has to be within the law." The witness confirmed that was sent to the head of the investigations team, Greg Miskiw, and was in response to criticism of the paper's methods by other newspapers. Brooks told the court that people "jumped to conclusions about the News of the World" but in this case she felt the paper's methods were justified.

The court then took a short break

When the jury returned, further emails about budgets were shown to them. Brooks told the court these related to her annual trip to New York to meet News International's management to discuss how much the paper would have to spend each year. Another email, a "confidentiality agreement" between the paper and "Mr Williams" - a pseudonym for convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire - was shown to the witness. Brooks agreed that that she was copied into the email but denied ever seeing it or knowing that Williams was in fact Mulcaire.

The next document was a contract from Greg Miskiw to Mulcaire for £7,500 for projects "Emily" and "Alice". Brooks told the court that in retrospect she thought this related to attempts by Mulcaire to trace the two killers of Jamie Bulger. The accused told the court that she would have only seen this if it led to Miskiw breaking his weekly spending limit and denied seeing it at the time. An email from Miskiw to Brooks was shown to the witness where he complained about the story costing £7,500, which was coming out of his budget. Brooks said that she would have spoken to Miskiw about the story but he would only have told her "it was a confidential source" and stressed that she had never heard the name Glenn Mulcaire until he was arrested in 2006. In a later email, Brooks complained about the cost of the story as it was not exclusive, and informed Miskiw that any payment over £2,000 would have to be authorised by the managing editor. The witness told the court that she had been told by senior News International management that she could not go over budget "by even a penny" and this letter was part of her efforts to do this.

Lord Justice Saunders then told the court "that was enough for the day" and court adjourned until Tuesday.

All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial at the Old Bailey continues.

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

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