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Phone-hacking trial: Brooks paid official for 'Saddam anthrax story', accused too 'tired' to testify all day

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.

  • Day cut short as Brooks "tired" after five days of testimony
  • Brooks admits paying public official for "Saddam Anthrax" story
  • Missing MPs' expenses scandal "an error of judgement," witness admits
  • The sixth day of former News of the World and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks' evidence in chief began just after 10am this morning. Judge Saunders told the jury that Brooks was getting very tired and therefore court would adjourn early today. The defendant's defence counsel, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, resumed where he ended yesterday discussing the charges against his client over Operation Elveden, the police investigation into newspaper payments to public officials. Brooks faces one charge of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office over allegations she approved payments to a Ministry of Defence civil servant in exchange for confidential information.

    Laidlaw continued the process of asking Brooks what she knew about the source of various articles and, hypothetically, if she thought they were enough in the public interest to sanction a payment. The first story mentioned related to a female soldier who had lost a limb in Afghanistan. On balance, Brooks said she would "probably not" have agreed to pay a public official for this story as "it would have come out anyway".

    The next Sun story shown to the witness was "Colonel leaks Afghan secrets", the allegation concerning a senior officer who had allegedly breached the official secrets act. Brooks told the court the article was like a "pie" with a variety of sources. "I thought it was a very good story and put it on page one, but I wasn't looking at payments to public officials," the witness said. Asked if in a hypothetical situation where the only way to get the story was to pay a public official, Brooks said that the story was "hugely in the public interest" as it was about a senior officer leaking information to a human rights group. "I would have said yes" Brooks told the court.

    An email was then shown to the court where a journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, asks Brooks to approve a cash payment of £3,500 for the story to his "top military source". The defendant denied knowing at the time who the source was and said the email, in which she just replies with one word "yes," came at the busiest time of the day. "I would just have been thinking well done" about the story, Brooks told the jury.

    Brooks was then asked if she ever asked the journalist who his sources were. She said she did not and there was nothing in the article which suggested it was a public official. "The whole point of confidential sources is you don't quote them in the paper," she said.

    Jonathan Laidlaw QC then asked Brooks about another story, "Hero squaddies in £100,000 expenses scam." The witness said that she thought this was in the public interest as it showed that "taxpayers' money" was being wasted. There was an email from the journalist to Brooks asking for her to approve payment of £750 for the story, "I would have thought, that's good value" the witness said. The same was true of the next article "Major nicked after fake gong probe", adding that the story was clearly in the public interest as it showed a possible conspiracy to "fake the army's honour system."

    Four more stories, which the prosecution said were sourced from civil servant Bettina Jordan-Barber in the summer of 2009, were then shown to the jury: "General's order as yanks call our boys scruffy"; "Blackbelly up"; "Army chief's son loses second leg" and "Soldier dies of swine flu." In each case Brooks denied knowing that she knew Jordan-Barber was the source of the stories, but that they were clearly in the public interest. Emails shown to the court showed that Brooks approved payments of £1,000 each for the four stories.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned Rebekah Brooks again took her seat in the witness box to be questioned by her defence counsel Jonathan Laidlaw who told the court he had two final topics to cover today. The first was a set of "miscellaneous emails" that were displayed on the court screens. The first related to an arrest of singer George Michael in 2005 and a tip off received from someone "who said he was a policeman". This is forwarded to Brooks with a note "without a cough it's not going to go very far." She replies "leave it with me." The defendant told the court that it was not uncommon for journalists to have good relationships with police officers and nothing in the email mentioned paying for the story. "Leave it with me" meant she would contact George Michael's agent to see if the story could be confirmed.

    The second email was a journalist asking for £500 for tips he had received about Kate Moss and a "drug dealer" and also the "Stockwell coverup" which the court heard related to the shooting by police of John Charles de Menezes in London. The email ends: "with respect I'm not sure it's wise putting this kind of thing down on email where there is a permanent record." Brooks told the court she had no recollection of receiving the mail. Brooks said she did not know who the journalist's contact was and wouldn't have asked. "Nothing suggested this was a payment to a serving officer," the defendant told the court. The line about not putting anything on email "could be seen as sinister," Brooks agreed, but may have just have been a reference to not naming a source. "It's a little bit chippy," the witness said. Brooks said that the Sun had a good relationship with the police. "We even sponsored the Scotland Yard football team," she said.

    The next email is from another journalist asking Brooks to agree a £1,000 cash payment for a "wife swapping story", "which I would like to remain antonymous because the contact is a serving police officer". Brooks said she did not recall if she agreed to the payment or not but was "absolutely aware of the illegality" of paying an officer. She added however that hypothetically the "copper" could have come across the story in his "everyday life" rather than in connection with his duties.

    The third email was also a request for a cash payment of £1,000 for "the first pic of cop killer Steven Graham" which had to be anonymous as "the guy who got us the picture works at Sandhurst..and doesn't want it to be traced back to him." The defendant told the court she did not recall the mail but added, "just because the guy worked at Sandhurst doesn't mean he was a public official."

    The fourth mail was from 2009 in which another journalist writes "just heard back from my man at Five re the Jewish targets story..spooks are keeping an open mind about possible security implications as a result of Gaza". Brooks confirmed that "Five" referred to MI5, a department of the British secret service. The journalist "was getting a briefing, I don't see anything unusual in this," Brooks told the court.

    The fifth email shown was from a journalist informing Brooks about information he had gained from a contact "serving alongside" Prince Harry in Afghanistan. The defendant told the court that nothing in the email suggested corruption or payment to a public official.

    The final email quotes a "prison source" in reference to "Huntley and Whiting", two convicted child murderers serving their sentences at Wakefield jail. Brooks told the court the Sun "was justifiably keeping an eye" on Huntley and Whiting but there was nothing in the email suggesting payment.

    Laidlaw finished the day by asking Brooks about examples of times when Brooks had admitted paying public officials. The first was about "anthrax", he told the court, and asked the former editor to give the court the background. A call had been received at the Sun's newsdesk from a public official saying they had reason to believe the government "was covering up a plot from Saddam Hussein to smuggle anthrax into the country." They had negotiated with the source but the news reached Downing Street "through the security services" and Brooks was called to a meeting with MI5. MI6 asked her not to publish the story but as editor Brooks decided in was in the public interest.

    The second example Brooks gave of potentially paying a public official was information about the MPs' expenses scandal. "This was sensitive information and the source was problematic" the court was told. "I thought about it too long, didn't go ahead with it" and the story ended up being run by the Daily Telegraph. "It was an error of judgement," Brooks admitted.

    Court then adjourned until Monday.

    All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues.