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Phone-hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks testifies on 'paranoia' as police closed in

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.

    Trial: Rebekah Brooks discussed Chris Bryant MP

  • Brooks tells court about high "level of paranoia" as police investigation launched
  • Met Coulson in Febuary 2011 to discuss his resignation from Downing Street
  • Defendant told "Labour party figure" was being leaked her emails
  • News of the World "shutdown option" first discussed in June 2011
  • Court resumed after lunch with Rebekah Brooks giving evidence in her defence over charges six and seven, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. As CEO of News International, Brooks presided over the deletion of millions of emails from the company computer system and her defence went over the extent of Brooks' knowledge of this and her motive for doing so. A series of emails between the defendant and the News International information technology team were shown to the court which, the defence claim, show that the motive behind the deletions was technical, to make the system work properly. The policy called for all emails created before December 2007 to be permanently deleted, unless saved by the user.

    Brooks was asked about further emails when she asked IT to change the date from which emails would be deleted from December 2007 to January 2010, a "clean sweep" as the former CEO put it. The defendant said that this was merely a product of how long the project had taken and "clean sweep" was not meant in a "sinister" sense. "The idea was just to keep everything for a year," Brooks said. The court was also shown legal advice that showed that emails relating to "litigation" over phone-hacking were to be retained as well as all emails concerned with mergers and acquisitions. A specialist firm, Essential Computing, were contracted to extract the relevant files and save these from deletion.

    The court was then shown emails between Brooks and an executive, Will Lewis, who was leading News International's response to civil cases against the company over phone-hacking. Lewis asked Brooks to secure all of the emails of 29 users, including Andy Coulson and Dan Evans as well as all emails to or from convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire. Brooks told the court that the implementation of the email deletion policy was delayed while this was carried out and in February 2011 police asked News International to preserve all emails and back-up tapes until further notice.

    The court then took a short break while a matter was dealt with.

    When the jury returned, the judge apologised to the jury for the "tough going" but said they were now at the end of email deletion policy. Jonathan Laidlaw QC, Brooks' defence counsel, showed the witness emails dated 2006 from a journalist, who we cannot name for legal reasons, suspected of being involved in phone-hacking. Brooks recalled she first saw these emails in January 2011 when they were found during disclosure for actress Sienna Miller. They showed, Brooks said, "the journalist was fully engaged in hacking voicemails". The journalist was suspended from duty and subsequently dismissed and the emails "given to the police", the court was told. Another email from Brooks to her personal assistants asked them to arrange a meeting at a hotel on 14 January with Andy Coulson, who was working in Downing Street as the government's director of communications. "Needs to be somewhere discreet," Brooks requested.

    Laidlaw asked Brooks why she wanted to meet Coulson. The defendant said she was going to tell him that they had found some "pretty incriminating evidence" against the journalist concerned. Brooks could not recall if she had told Coulson the emails would be sent to the police. "It was getting very difficult for Andy at Downing Street," the defendant told the court and he had a "difficult balance". "This information makes it worse," she said.

    Coulson had, Brooks said, already decided to resign because "when the communications person becomes the story there is a problem". The witness was then asked about another email from 2011 when she asked for her office to be "swept for bugs". Brooks said this was for "commercial reasons" to avoid sensitive company information leaking out to rivals. Her Blackberry smartphone was also acting "oddly", so before the journalist's emails were handed to the police security measures were taken so that "no conversations or legal advice got into the wrong hands". "It probably sounds paranoid, but that's the world we were living in," the defendant added.

    Brooks was then asked what she knew about her old hard drive, which had been removed from her computer. "The level of paranoia was quite high," the witness said. "Everything seemed to leak, we couldn't keep anything contained." One of her journalists had also told her that a "person in the Labour party" had a source within the company leaking emails. "I'm not saying there was any truth in this, but it was possible that there was."

    The defendant was then asked if it occurred to her in January 2011 that she might be arrested over phone-hacking. Brooks replied: "Not at all." In April 2011, a Labour MP, Chris Bryant, was quoted as saying that he believed hacking had begun under Brooks' editorship. The jury was also shown newspaper articles criticising the original police investigation. A new investigation, Operation Weeting, was then launched into phone-hacking. Brooks told the court that Bryant's statement was the first time it was suggested that hacking occurred under her editorship of the News of the World. "I did not level hacking happened under my editorship so I was pretty robust, and it was Chris Bryant." Brooks told the court that there was a pubic fall out between the Sun and the Labour party in 2009, "which was escalated across the board by the Sky bid". Brooks quoted Vince Cable saying he would not work with Rupert Murdoch. "That was the mood on that side of politics at that time, there was no love lost between Bryant and the Sun over a story they had written about him," she said. The defendant also mentioned "the head of the BBC going to New York to complain about the BskyB bid, it was all happening."

    The court was then shown a public statement from News International on 8 April 2011 which apologised for hacking since 2004 and accepted "our previous inquiries were not robust enough". The jury was shown email exchanges between Rebekah Brooks, Charlie Brooks and Will Lewis discussing the statement, including removing the phrase "rogue reporter" which appeared in the first draft. "We had decided to admit liability and be open and public about it," Brooks told the jury. Shortly after the statement was released another journalist, James Weatherup, was arrested by police. According to a Guardian article quoted in court, "executives from the paper cleared Weatherup's desk before police arrived". Brooks said she had not been present when this was done but was later informed that the legal advice received was that a previous "raid on the paper was not legal" so it had been decided to clear the desk under the supervision of the paper's solicitors. The police, Brooks said, "were incredibly angry" about this and "were going to consider their options", including taking action against the solicitors giving the advice and that Brooks herself might be arrested.

    On her return from Barbados in April 2011, Brooks told the court she took personal legal advice. The defendant said her understanding was that if the police arrested her at home they could search the premises and "take what they wanted". News International then discovered, the court was told, a file from solicitors firm Harbottle and Lewis which contained new evidence, including emails which led to Operation Elveden, an inquiry into corrupt payments by newspapers to public officials. At this point, Brooks flew to Washington to consult American lawyers Williams and Connolly. News International also consulted with the former director of public prosecutions, Lord McDonald, who recommended the file be handed over to the police. This was done on 20 June 2011. It was just after this date, emails shown to court revealed, that the "shutdown option" was first mentioned. Brooks explained that meant closing the News of the World completely as it was a "toxic brand".

    In a meeting with police in June 2011, Brooks met police and was shown documents that revealed her ex-husband, actor Ross Kemp, also had his phone hacked by Glenn Mulcaire. This, Brooks said, explained her email to Kemp asking him to "get in touch over phone-hacking" to which he replied: "Am I in trouble? I'm always in trouble."

    Court then rose for the day

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

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

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