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Phone-hacking trial: Brooks paid public officials 'half a dozen times', court hears

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.

Court: Rebekah Brooks continues to give evidence at the Old Bailey

  • Trial moves on to Brooks' editorship of Sun
  • Jury shown Sun "campaigning" front pages
  • Brooks admits terrible mistake over "Bonkers Bruno" headline
  • As Sun editor Brooks sanctioned payments to public officials "half a dozen" times
  • Business resumed just after 10am in court 12 of the Old Bailey as former News of the World and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks continued to give evidence in her defence on charges of conspiracy to intercept communications, pervert the course of justice and corrupt public officials. Jonathan Laidlaw QC, Brooks' counsel, continued his examination in chief by asking his client about her time as editor of the Sun, which she joined in January 2003. The thinking behind the appointment, Brooks told the court, was "partly the campaigning side" as Rupert Murdoch had been pleased with this aspect of her work at the News of the World. They were also looking for a "softer" tone in the paper.

    Laidlaw asked Brooks to describe a typical day at work. Brooks said she would start the morning by reading all eight national newspapers and then hold an editorial conference at around 11am to get ideas for the next day's paper followed by a "pages and plot" meeting at around noon to review articles that had been prepared overnight. Brooks said lunch would be taken at her desk and the afternoon would be taken up with filling up the paper and preparing for the 7pm print deadline for the first edition. The paper was not "war and peace", the witness said, but it still contained between 40,000 and 70,000 words. As well as the editorial side, Brooks was also responsible for marketing and managing advertising and promotions. There were also lunches with "big clients" of the paper such as supermarkets and car manufacturers. Brooks told the court that columnists were sometimes critical of clients. Jeremy Clarkson, Brooks told the court, could be scathing about new cars made by companies who "put a lot of money into the paper and couldn't understand why this happened".

    Brooks told the court that as editor she also spent many hours with politicians. "There was a constant dialogue," she said. There were also meetings with senior police officers once or twice a month, when the Sun editor would get what Brooks described as "private briefings" on issues facing the country. "We were also at war while I was editor," the witness told the court, so there were also regular meetings with "the military and the security services". There was also a huge volume of emails - Brooks said she had over 11,000 in her inbox when she resigned.

    Laidlaw then asked Brooks about the Sun's coverage of the armed forces. The witness said this was a huge part of the paper's coverage and the aim was to be supportive of the troops while holding the Ministry of Defence to account for shortages of equipment and waste of resources. When the war in Iraq was imminent, Brooks said, there was a "huge anti-war mood in the country with huge marches" and this led to "incidents where members of the armed forces were abused on the streets." A charity was set up, the witness said, called "Help for Heroes", which the Sun agreed to support. There was also the issue of a series of incidents at Deepcut army barracks where there were incidents of bullying of recruits. Justice Saunders then intervened to say: "We've got the point, there were campaigns," and asked Brooks "not to bring in too many unnecessary issues."

    "I'm rambling, I'm sorry," the witness replied

    The court was then shown a series of Sun front pages from 2003 relating to the war in Iraq and the paper's support for Help for Heroes and other military issues. Brooks also told the court that she launched "The Sun Military Awards" to honour bravery in the armed forces. Another folder of Sun front pages was then shown to the jury relating to other campaigns the paper had run: against domestic violence, supporting adoption, "Band Aid 20 years on", Comic Relief and various others. "The Sun was a broad church," Brooks told the court, "not just football, page three and celebrity", and she explained that she had made up this folder to illustrate that "for people who have never read the paper".

    Brooks then showed another section of the folder to show errors she had made while editing the Sun. The first of these was a story about Frank Bruno - "Bonkers Bruno locked up" - which she described as a "terrible mistake". The issue was pulled after only 15,000 copies had been printed and the witness said she later went on a course to learn how to cover mental health issues in the paper.

    "It shows in those flashes of speed you can just look at something and not see it," she said. The second front page was over the prison suicide of convicted serial killer Harold Shipman with the headline "Ship Ship Hooray". The tone "was not where we should have been", Brooks said. Another front page which Brooks described as going too far related to a campaign led by MP Claire Short against the topless pictures the Sun ran on page three. The tone was "cruel and harsh" in the headline "fat jealous Clare brands page 3 porn", she said. The witness also said that attacks on social workers over the "Baby P" case were, in retrospect, mistaken.

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, Jonathan Laidlaw QC moved on to count five against his client, the accusation that she conspired to commit misconduct in a public office with a Sun reporter, who we cannot name for legal reasons, to pay a civil servant in the Ministry of Defence for information. Brooks said she did not know at the time who the the source was or that she was a public official. To put the charge in context, Laidlaw first asked the witness about her professional relationships with police officers. Brooks said that as editor of the Sun she had contact with "very senior" police officers such as the commissioner of the Metropolitan police and other chief constables either at her offices or at Scotland yard. She also had private dinners with "the head of the army, navy and RAF" and the chief of staff of the armed forces. She also met with senior figures in the security services such as the director generals of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

    Brooks agreed that many public officials would provide information without payment, giving the example of MPs and cabinet ministers who would often "exchange information with journalists". "During the height of the Gordon Brown, Tony Blair struggle," she said, "both sides would offer stories to the paper." It was also "quite common", the court was told, for police officers to give informal and off the record briefings to reporters who they had good relationships with. "The relationship between the police and the press was a symbiotic relationship," the witness said. Because of the Sun's focus on the armed forces, Brooks said, stories were also passed on to the newspaper's journalists.

    Defence counsel asked if any of these activities ever caused Brooks concern. "There could be issues over very sensitive information and that had to be subject to more analysis," she replied. Brooks was asked if officials ever "asked for money" in exchange for information and if she considered this a breach of the law. Brooks replied that "there had to be a overwhelming public interest" for payment to be considered and if there was not "it was not done as it was considered to be illegal". Brooks said she had "sanctioned" a payment to a public official "on a handful of occasions, about half a dozen" when she was certain it was in the public interest. "Each newspaper, the Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph has its own definition of the public interest," the witness said.

    Brooks was then asked about the Sun reporter involved in the charge. For legal reasons we cannot report his name or job title. He was, however, "incredibly experienced", the witness said. Brooks told the court she did not know the journalist's "confidential sources" as all reporters "keep these close to their chest". "Once you start paying a source there is a confidential relationship by definition," Brooks told the court, giving the example of a celebrity's "father or agent".

    The defence barrister asked Brooks if the journalist ever "raised the topic of paying a public official". Brooks said no, but agreed that "he should have brought it to my attention so I could have taken responsibility for it". Laidlaw asked Brooks if she agreed with the prosecution case that "it should have been obvious that these came from a public official". The witness said: "You don't often get a story from one source, you get a tip from one source and stand it up with another. When you see a story there is a certain element of trust in newspapers, there is a lot of delegation."

    Stories could also come from retired police officers or soldiers who were no longer serving, she said. Local reporters in garrison towns would also have contacts and get stories they would pass on to national papers. Another possible source was relatives of public officials who could pick things up.

    Laidlaw then asked the witness about cash payments. Brooks said that if a reporter wanted to pay a confidential source they could fill out a docket and receive cash to pass on. Money could also be sent via Thomas Cook "wire transfer". These had to be signed off by department heads and the "editor of the day".

    Court then rose for lunch.

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