Phone-hacking trial : The hacker, the publicist and the purged emails

By James Doleman |

March 3, 2014 | 12 min read

  • News International paid phone-hacker's legal costs
  • Deal done with Max Clifford to drop civil case
  • Purge removed millions of emails from News International archive
  • After Friday's shortened day due to defendant Rebekah Brooks being too tired to testify, court resumed this morning to hear the former News of the World and Sun editor continue her defence. Her defence counsel, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, move on to count six and seven against his client, charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Laidlaw told the court he was going to ask the witness about events in the summer of 2009 when she had become chief executive officer of News International, reporting to executive chairman James Murdoch.

    Brooks agreed that this was a major "step up" from her previous role, and James Murdoch brought in consultants to assist her. She also, the court was told, taken courses at the London School of Economics. On 8 July 2009, the Guardian printed an article, in relation to a civil case brought by Gordon Taylor, that phone-hacking was "widespread" at the News of the World. Brooks told the court that she had been told about the article the night before publication and that this was the first time she was aware Taylor was in litigation against News International. The case, the court was told, was settled out of court for £1m in exchange for an agreement that he did not disclose the evidence he had against the company. Brooks told the court she now knew the Guardian allegations were true but at the time she did not believe them and had no part in the conduct or settlement of the Taylor claim. "It was a confidential agreement," Brooks told the court.

    Rebekah Brooks arrives in court (Photo by James Doleman)

    The defendant told the court that in 2009 she did not believe the Guardian's allegations that there were "thousands" of phone victims. The witness was then shown the "for Neville" email which showed a 2005 discussion between News of the World journalists over a transcript of 25 message hacked from Taylor's voicemail. This contradicted the "corporate position" of News International that phone-hacking was the result of the actions of a single "rogue reporter". Brooks told the court that when she saw the "for Neville" mail she thought that "the company's position was looking shaky". Brooks said she had not known that convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire was working for the News of the World while she was editor until his arrest in 2006.

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    The witness was then shown an exchange of letters from later in July 2009 between the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and Brooks. The letter from the PCC asked Brooks about the Guardian story and pointed out that a parliamentary committee was looking in to the matter. The letter went on to ask Brooks what "safeguards" News International had put in place to prevent future instances of invasion of privacy. Brooks' reply was then read to the court. In it, Brooks told the PCC that the newspaper group had "reviewed its practices" in light of the original phone-hacking case and that all journalists had been instructed to abide by the PCC code or face disciplinary action. Staff had also been given a handbook containing information about their duties under the Data Protection Act. Brooks letter went on to tell the PCC that "subterfuge" by journalists could only be used when stories were "in the public interest" and had to be cleared by senior management.

    The court then moved on to another civil "hacking case" - that of publicist Max Clifford. The jury was shown an email from a News International legal adviser to Brooks which discussed Clifford's action. "The object must be to settle the dispute with Max," the adviser wrote. It went on to state that this should happen "without involving his lawyers". Clifford, Brooks said, had been an "expensive contact for the News of the World" but there had been a "falling out" in 2005 and he had been "banned basically for working for News Group Newspapers". The aim of the negotiation was, Brooks said, "to involve Clifford in the business again" and pay his legal fees. The worry about involving Clifford's lawyer, the witness told the court, was that if their agreement became public it would encourage others to seek a settlement. "The potential liability was huge," and the aim was to reach "confidential settlements".

    "Max's objective was to resume his lucrative relationship with News Group Newspapers," Brooks told the court. There was also a fear that Glenn Mulcaire would release information about other victims. He had worked at the News of the World for a long time, since his "pre-hacking days", the witness said.

    The legal advice then discussed Clifford's lawsuit, stating that "it is quite a strong circumstantial case but unless Mulcaire testifies it is likely to fail" depending on "police disclosure and our disclosure". The letter added: "The case may not be worth all that much." Brooks agreed that this accorded with her memory of what she was told at the time.

    A later email on the Clifford case was then shown to the court. It informed Brooks that Clifford's lawyer was looking for a court order demanding Mulcaire hand over the names of who he had dealt with at the News of the World and that this should be opposed. The defendant told the court that News International opposed the order on the basis that Mulcaire was "an unreliable witness" and that this could cause damage to the company. "The view was he could say anyone or anything," the court was told. A further email showed that News International had agreed to fund Mulcaire's defence on the order. Brooks confirmed that she had agreed with that course of action.

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, Jonathan Laidlaw QC continued to question his client about her role in the 2010 Max Clifford phone-hacking civil case. The next document shown to the court was a record of a meeting between Brooks and her legal team over the case. It noted that only Mulcaire could challenge the order that he name who he dealt with at News International and confirmed that News Group Newspapers had agreed to help pay for his legal representation. "If he does not have representation the order will go through," a lawyer stated. The minutes then show that Brooks agreed with Clifford to pay him £200,000 per annum to work for the Sun. "The objective was to secure a successful commercial relationship with Clifford" so he would drop the case. The meeting then discussed if this agreement should be put in writing and the advice from the lawyers present was that it should not. "We should keep the two things separate, Max Clifford's main objective was to resume a commercial relationship with the Sun." If they could not get this in writing, a lawyer suggested, "perhaps she should just turn up with a load of cash?"

    Brooks told the court that she had "inherited" this policy and that "the timing was wrong" as she was possibly being called to a parliamentary select committee. "Obviously Max wanted the deal to be confidential and if you are under oath at a select committee that's not possible," she said. The minute also noted: "RB said it would be terrible if we are seen to be buying off Max." The witness agreed that these were her thoughts at the time as "we had no idea what Glenn Mulcaire would say at the time" because he was "obviously an unreliable witness".

    "Our decision was to settle to prevent further damage commercially or financially," the witness added.

    Brooks told the court that she later met with Clifford "and we came to a commercial deal", the witness stated. The deal, she said, was for Clifford to give stories to News International on an agreed fee per annum to reflect how much he had "lost out" during the period he had been stopped from supplying stories to the paper. News Group Newspapers also agreed to pay Clifford's legal costs. One lawyer queried this and an email reply shown to the court stated: "This is getting expensive but do we really want Mulcaire answering questions in court."

    In another email exchange shown to the court, Brooks asked Martin Ivens, deputy editor of the Sunday Times, about a story the paper was going to run about Clifford: "You may have him bang to rights but could you pass an eye over it as another legal would be a nightmare." Brooks said that she was concerned that an inaccurate story could lead to further legal issues and was trying to avoid that. Brooks told the court she had no concerns personally about Mulcaire testifying as there had never been any suggestion until later in 2010 that hacking had happened while she was editor of the News of the World.

    The witness was then asked about an email sent to her about the 2010 perjury trial of Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan. It discussed the suspension of a News of the World journalist and asked if this should be delayed until after the end of Sheridan's trial. Brooks told the court there had been a new civil claim of phone-hacking, from actress Sienna Miller, and some of the disclosure had been reported in the Guardian which alleged a particular News of the World journalist, who we cannot name for legal reasons, had been involved in hacking. Brooks replied to the email: "I understand but I don't feel I'm getting the right advice," adding "it's crazy that Sheridan has not been mentioned, it's not going to change the view [Vince] Cable has of us and Nick Robinson rubbished the whole thing as 'unprofessional reporting'." Justice Saunders then intervened and asked about the reference to "Sheridan". This was explained as another litigation the paper was involved in. The emails went on to discuss the effect the story might have on the "Sky bid", News International's attempt to purchase the whole of British Sky Broadcasting.

    The court then moved on to Brooks' role in the email deletion policy implemented by News International. The court was told that in 2005 all emails sent to and from people in the company were archived in a central system. There was, however, an option to opt-out of the system which Brooks had taken. The witness said she had no recollection of "opting-out" but as the email system "was a nightmare" she could understand why she may have done so. "I managed my email myself," the witness told the court, saying she created folders in her inbox such as "mum" or "KRM". When the inbox filled up, Brooks said, the system would "freeze up" and she would be unable to log on, then "someone from IT would come up and fix it". The witness said she had no idea her emails were not archived. "They were on the screen so I thought they had to be somewhere," she added.

    In 2010, Laidlaw told the court a number of "purges" took place of the News of the World's email archive. A company was employed in 2010 to delete all emails before 2005, leading to the deletion of a further 4.8 million emails. Brooks said she had no knowledge of the purges but believed it was linked to James Murdoch joining the company from Sky "where they were uber-good at that sort of thing" and being unhappy at the state of News Group's systems. "Everyone was aware of the system problems," Brooks said.

    Court then rose for lunch.

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


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