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Phone-hacking trial: Blair, Murdoch and MFI

By James Doleman |

March 4, 2014 | 12 min read

    Rupert Murdoch

  • Tony Blair emailed Brooks "thinking of you" when Milly Dowler story broke
  • Brooks blamed Gordon Brown "pals" for "Guardian, Old Labour, BBC hit"
  • Plan B revealed "Blame Les or Colin" Launch Sun on Sunday
  • Brooks wanted to resign in early July but Rupert Murdoch "asked me not to," court hears
  • Before the main business of the day the court sat at 9.30 to hear a plea from Daryl Jorsling, a security contractor charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice with Rebekah Brooks and others in connection with allegations he helped conceal papers and equipment from the police in July 2011. Jorsling pleaded not guilty and will be tried at a later date.

    When the main trial resumed Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the Sun and the News of the World and, later, CEO of News International took the stand for the seventh day of testimony in her defence. Her counsel, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, continued with his examination of issues around charges six and seven, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in 2011, accusations that Brooks and others hid information from the police investigating the phone-hacking scandal.

    The defence barrister moved on to events of 4 July 2011, the day that the Guardian broke the story that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for the News of the World. Brooks told the court she was attending a fertility clinic at around 4pm when she received an email from a senior News International executive drawing her attention to the Guardian article. The witness described her reaction as "I couldn't believe it". Brooks returned to her office and talked to colleagues. "We couldn't understand where this was coming from," she told the court.

    The jury was then shown a statement issued by Brooks that evening which promises to co-operate with the police investigating the matter. "It was a holding statement until we found out more detail," the defendant said. The issue was also raised in parliament that afternoon by Tom Watson. "We couldn't understand how the Labour MPs got the story so quickly. One of the phone hacking lawyers Mark Lewis was out talking to the press, it was all coming out so quickly," Brooks recalled.

    Emails between a senior News of the World executive and Charlie Brooks called the story "Another attempted hit on Rebekah from Tom Watson, we are on the back foot". Rebekah Brooks told the court: "It all seemed so orchestrated, everyone knew about it but us, we were constantly dealing with media revelations not the police telling us what they had." "The accessing of Milly Dowler's phone in itself was terrible, but the accusation that messages had been deleted was sparking fury, it took the police months to confirm that this didn't happen."

    The court was then shown an exchange of texts between Brooks and former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan: "When it rains if f*cking pours, stay strong." Brooks replied: "We are taking the usual News International tin hat approach." Morgan then responded: "You are trending worldwide on Twitter, well done" adding "If it wasn't a staffer you've got to get that out there fast."

    The Dowler story was by then, Brooks said, affecting News International's bid to take full control of BSkyB. In another email read to the court, the Sun's political editor tells Brooks "batten down the hatches tonight looks like our enemies are going to throw the kitchen sink at us." Brooks told the court she then wrote to the chief constable of Surrey police asking them to provide information on what they knew about the alleged Dowler hack.

    The next day, Brooks said, she emailed James Harding, former editor at the Times and now head of BBC News. "We need some help here, can you find out frm Sean how he knows page 1-3 are true, we have zero visibility of this this is a proper Guardian, Old Labour, BBC hit, who gave Sean [The Times crime correspondent] the word it was true, our suspicion is Dowler details in Mulcaire's book but no evidence of hacking, we don't know if it's true". "We were completely at a loss," the defendant told the court.

    The jury was then shown emails between Brooks, her husband Charlie and senior News International executives discussing a draft statement on the Dowler story, "It was a very important statement," Brooks said. The court was then read an email from a News of the World sports reporter who expresses full support for Brooks and says that the allegations over Dowler cannot be true as "if you had known about them you would have stamped it out," going on to add "you are the best editor I've ever worked for". "I got a lot of support from my old team," the defendant said. She was also, the court was told, receiving threats and contacted security about her personal safety. They recommended changing address, entry and exit teams and changing cars in case of "police concerns".

    Brooks explained that "police concerns" related to the possibility of a dawn raid by officers and fears she would be "photographed being taken away by police. It was to organise an exit." The court was then shown a text from Tony Blair to Brooks from the same day: "Let me know if there is anything I can help you with. Thinking of you, I've been I've been through things like this." Brooks replied: "GB [Gordon Brown] pals getting their own back."

    In another email shown to court Brooks asks her mother "not to watch the news." Another text, from cabinet minister Michael Gove to Brooks, was then read to court stating: "Sorry to miss you, don't think Sarah and I can make it tonight". The defendant explained that this was a corporate event being held that week which she had decided to cancel and she knew Gove as they were working together to set up an "academy school" in East London.

    Brooks told the court: "I had become the focus for everything that was going on. I did feel it was a bit sexist, but you cant ignore the seriousness of the allegations, it's a balance." The court was then shown an email from Wynn Davis, a News International staff member, stating "Good news" and informing Brooks that credit card records showed she had been abroad for much of 2002. "Those were the days," Brooks replied. She had then spoken to Ross Kemp and her assistant Cheryl Carter who had worked out that Brooks was on holiday in Dubai when the Milly Dowler voicemail story was published by the News of the World.

    Counsel then asked Brooks about her resignation from News International. The defendant said she had considered resigning in April 2011. "If the police are going to arrest the CEO it's all over," she told the court. However after the Milly Dowler story "even though I didn't know about it and I was away, I thought I should resign anyway." Brooks said she discussed resignation with James Murdoch on 4 July, however Rupert Murdoch was at a conference at Sun Valley in Idaho. "I couldn't resign until he got here," Brooks said. On 7 July, the court was told, News International announced the closure of the News of the World. Brooks told the jury that this had first been discussed in June, "So you could save the bid for Sky," Judge Saunders asked. However after the Milly Dowler story broke, Brooks said, "the problem we had was that Mr Rupert Murdoch was in a different time zone" so it took until 7 July before the closure could be agreed.

    The court was then shown a prosecution document called "plan B." This plan, Brooks said, involved having an internal inquiry. Part of the proposal from Brooks was then read to the jury stating: "A report can be issued blaming Les or Colin which would then be leaked to the press." Brooks explained: "Things we didn't want to be leaked were being leaked so this was a way to use this." "I can be ring-fenced," plan B goes on "though I don't have much of a reputation left." The memo then discusses the proposed launch of the Sun on Sunday to replace the News of the World.

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned Jonathan Laidlaw QC turned to count six, which is an allegation that Brooks, and her personal assistant Cheryl Carter, conspired to destroy notebooks to hide them for the police. The defendant said there was "no truth" to this charge. Carter, Brooks said, had been her PA for 13 years and she was: "A friend and a brilliant pa. We had ups and downs we were just a great combination, Cheryl ran my life and would sometimes give me frank opinions. She is a friendly, open book kind of person and I'm the opposite of that, her heart is huge." As well as her PA responsibilities, Brooks said, Carter wrote a "beauty column" for the Sun. Laidlaw asked Brooks if Carter had any weaknesses: "She could be a bit scatty and forgetful," the defendant said, giving an example when she had once instructed her that if Mr Murdoch called she was to tell him Brooks was at MI5 where her phone would be taken away. Brooks told the court that Carter told Murdoch when he called that Brooks was at "MFI", a bargain furniture store, which led to laughter in court.

    Brooks was asked, given that, if Carter was the sort of person "you would recruit to pervert the course of justice". The defendant said: "No, not just because she was scatty but also because she was an incredibly decent person." The defendant also told the court that after she stopped being a reporter she rarely used notebooks. By the time she was editor, Brooks said, she mainly used notebooks for "personal matters", not for work. Instead of notebooks, Brooks said her "system" was to use a page of a large A3 "artist pad" on her desk to take notes and this would be thrown away when it was full. The archive, the defendant said she only used to store "large items" like posters or football memorabilia. Other than that, Brooks told the court "the archive was not somewhere I'd store my personal or sensitive stuff." Items like this, the witness said, were put in locked filing cabinets with the key held by Carter.

    Brooks went on to deny she had given Carter any instructions to remove boxes from the archive or that she had asked Carter to lie about her movements. The defendant told the court that on that day said she was in a meeting with staff who had, "in true News of the World fashion, brought their cameras and hidden listening devices" and described the suggestion that she had told Carter to lie as "ridiculous". Brooks told the court her priority at this point was to ensure that as many News of the World staff were given new jobs in the company.

    The court was then read a statement made by Brooks on 8 July, where she promised to fully co-operate with the police and any other future inquiries. A "town hall meeting" held with staff that day was described by her as "incredibly emotional". Brooks told the court that she had been in the office on Saturday for the last edition of the News of the World but left before the final edition paper printed "as I didn't think I'd be welcome." That night Brooks received an email from a senior News international executive: "Tel [Telegraph] say you may be questioned by police". Brooks replied: "Is it splash [the headline] and will it be in the next few days?" The executive replies: "It is not going to be in the next few days, not according to Barney." Brooks said this was a reference to a senior police officer, Barney Radcliffe, who the executive was dealing with.

    Brooks told the court that the next day, the Sunday, she went to James Murdoch's house in Banbury for a meeting on the "ongoing situation." Brooks said that Cheryl Carter had visited her home at Jubilee Barn that Sunday to "look after mum" but they had not met. Later on that day Rupert Murdoch arrived in the UK and Brooks testified she drove to London to meet him at around 6pm. The press had found out about the meeting and a large number of journalists were outside. At the meeting Brooks did not resign as "he asked me not to," the jury was told.

    Court then rose for lunch.


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