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Phone-hacking trial: Brooks offered convicted phone-hacker a job to avoid 'damaging headlines'

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.

  • Brooks "surprised and confused" at Clive Goodman arrest
  • Her own phone was hacked by Mulcaire over 18 month period
  • Police asked her to be witness for prosecution
  • Phone-hacker received over £1m from News of the World, police believed
  • Job offered to Goodman after prison "to avoid damaging headlines," Brooks claims
  • Court resumed after lunch and the defence moved on from its questioning of Rebekah Brooks on the events of 2003 to the arrests of Sun journalist Clive Goodman and phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006. Brooks told the court she was in Italy when she heard about the arrests and may have been informed by email of a police "raid on the News of the World". The witness described her reaction to the news as "surprise and confusion". Brooks told the court she called her successor at News of the World, editor Andy Coulson, who told her Goodman had been arrested for "intercepting the voicemails of the Royal household". Coulson himself, the witness said, sounded "shocked and concerned".

    "No-one knew if it was true, there was uncertainty about the veracity of the allegations", Brooks added, and she said she did not cut short her holiday. Les Hinton, then CEO of News International, took responsibility for dealing with the issue, not Brooks. "I was the editor of the Sun," the witness told the court.

    Brooks was asked what the reaction of her team at the Sun was to the allegations. At first, she said, there was "general surprise at what Clive had done" and "grumpiness" about the involvement of a private detective and the "collective failure of the industry" to manage the issue. Intercepting voicemails, Brooks told the court, was seen by the Sun newsdesk as "cheating". The witness said she had no formal role in dealing with the reaction to the arrests but spoke to Coulson and others informally and knew there was a "great deal of concern about the investigation and where it was going," especially over the role of the counter-terrorism squad. "It was an anxious situation," she told the jury.

    Brooks was then asked if the discovery that Mulcaire had worked for the News of the World while she was editor caused her any concern. "I had no personal concerns," Brooks said, but added that she did "reflect" on the "collective failure" of the industry over the use of private detectives. Around a month after the arrests, Brooks testified, she was called by police who informed her there was evidence her voicemails had also been intercepted by Mulcaire. Brooks said this surprised her as she had a "personal pin code" and did not think it was possible for her voicemails to be hacked.

    Brooks did not want to meet the police in Wapping as the investigation was into a "sister paper", or meet at a police station. So, the witness said, she arranged to meet the police at the RAC club in London's Pall Mall. She informed both Rupert Murdoch and Andy Coulson about the arrangement, the court was told. Brooks said Coulson was "pretty startled" that she was to meet the anti-terrorism squad but she said she had a "natural curiosity about what happened to my phone" which "perhaps was pretty selfish of me," she added.

    The witness told the court she did not make any notes of the meeting but recalled it lasted around an hour and a half. Brooks said she thought two police officers were present but was not sure. "They tend to go in pairs," Justice Saunders joked. The meeting began, the witness said, with police telling her they had proof that her voicemail had been accessed and asked if she had "noticed anything odd" about her phone. They also asked her, Brooks said, if anything from her voicemail had reached the "public domain". She was also asked to be a witness for the prosecution against Mulcaire. "We had good relationships with the police," Brooks added. "It was quite a relaxed and informal conversation."

    Brooks said that at the meeting she was also interested in "trying to find out where the police were at" in their investigation. On her return she spoke to a News International legal adviser, Tom Crone, who made a note of what she had said and passed it to Andy Coulson. In the note, Crone wrote that: "Police are confident they have Clive and GM [Glenn Mulcaire] bang to rights over the palace intercepts and they have a list of 100 to 110 victims.... the only payment records they have found are from News International and over the period they had looked at there appear to be over £1 million of payments." Brooks told the court that this figure "surprised" her. The note went on to say police were "confident that they would get enough victims to show the full extent of Mulcaire's victims but in terms of the News of the World they were not widening the inquiry to other members of staff." Brooks told the court that at no time in the meeting did police suggest they were investigating possible criminal activity during the time of her editorship at the News of the World.

    The witness was then asked if, when she had spoken to the police, her former husband Ross Kemp had been mentioned. Brooks said she might have told police "I've had a pretty disastrous run on the personal front" and might have mentioned Kemp then. The defence QC asked if police had mentioned that Kemp appeared in Mulcaire's notes. "No," Brooks replied. Brooks said that after speaking to others in News International she had decided not to be a prosecution witness as it would cause "complexity at a corporate level" between the Sun and the News of the World. The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned for the final session of the day, Brooks' defence counsel Jonathan Laidlaw asked what she believed Mulcaire was being paid for. The witness replied that she thought at the time Mulcaire was paid for legitimate private detective work as well as intercepting voicemails.

    Laidlaw then told the jury that it was a matter of record that in 2006 Mulcaire and Goodman pleaded guilty to the illegal interception of voicemails, in January 2007 were sentenced to six months in prison and Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World. Brooks said that Coulson resigned not because there was any suggestion he knew about phone-hacking, but because it "happened on his watch, he took responsibility," she told the court. The witness told the court that Les Hinton's full internal inquiry had taken place and a public statement had been made that Goodman was a "rogue exception" in the newsroom. Brooks confirmed she had no reason to doubt this was the case and had no reason to be concerned about her personal position. "I had the belief that this was not going on under my editorship, and I still have that belief now," she said. In 2006/2007 Brooks told the court she believed phone-hacking was legal if it could be shown it was "in the public interest".

    Brooks was then asked about an expense form for a lunch with Clive Goodman at the RAC club in April 2007, shortly after he had been released from prison. The witness confirmed that at the lunch she offered Goodman a job. Asked why, she said the move had been agreed between her and Les Hinton. Goodman, Brooks said, had launched a case at an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal and was going to allege that other people had been involved in phone-hacking at the News of the World.

    The witness told the court: "There was concern at News International that a line had been drawn under the episode and the company felt that although the allegations were unfounded, to go through an embarrassing employment tribunal would lead to a series of damaging headlines." Goodman had, Brooks said "named pretty much everyone" on the newsdesk. "I don't think anyone, me included, thought the allegations by Clive had any basis," Brooks added, and agreed she would have spoken to Andy Coulson about the situation. At the time, the witness told the court, she thought Goodman was just a "disgruntled employee", but his claim could lead to a "publicity nightmare". Her aim was to "find a middle way", the court was told.

    The witness told the court that at the lunch "Clive was fairly angry" especially as he had only found out he had been sacked while on home leave from prison. Brooks said: "He and I decided not to discuss the details about his allegations against the company," and instead looked at alternatives. "It wouldn't be right for Clive to return to a reporting role after what had happened," Brooks said, but as it was the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana's death she suggested Goodman could take a role in writing background for a magazine the paper was planning to produce. Asked about Goodman's response, Brooks described it as "muted" as "a back-room job writing historical stuff about the Royal family is not what he wanted."

    The court was then shown an email from Brooks to Goodman asking him for an update on his views on the "Diana project" and offering an alternative plan of News International paying him to do a "sub-editor's course." The witness told the court that Goodman accepted neither offer and she had no further role in the claim for unfair dismissal.

    Court then rose for the day. All of the defendants continue to deny all of the charges. The trial continues.

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