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Phone-hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks questioned on News International "cover-up"

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.

Rebekah Brooks

  • Clive Goodman paid £70,000 by News of the World after being sacked for hacking
  • Brooks offered sacked journalist a freelance job on his release from prison
  • Coulson on Goodman guilty plea: "things going well"
  • Prosecution claims Brooks letter "seriously misleading"
  • The phone hacking trial continued this morning with the cross-examination of former News of the World and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks. In English legal procedure the other defendants' lawyers have the first opportunity to question the witness before the prosecution has its turn.

    Court began where it left off yesterday with David Spens QC, acting for former News of the World Royal editor Clive Goodman, asking Brooks about a section of the editors' code of practice on privacy which states: "Journalists must not publish material based on the use of clandestine listening devices or by intercepting private telephone calls." The witness confirmed that this was incorporated into employees' contracts and agreed she "took the code very seriously" and that listening to people's voicemails was a breach of an employee's contract which should lead to disciplinary action and that she "deplored the breach privacy revealed in the Goodman case." The jury has already heard that Clive Goodman pleaded guilty to intercepting voicemails from the "royal household" in November 2006 and was sacked in February 2007.

    Spens told the court that Goodman's bank records showed he received a payment of £70,000 from the News of the World when his employment was terminated. Spens asked Brooks about the "News International line" that phone hacking was the work of a single "rogue reporter". Brooks said she had "inherited the line when she took over as CEO" but saw no reason to disagree with it. Spens then asked Brooks about her 12 April 2007 lunch with Goodman during which she offered him a job. Brooks said this was a "company approved decision" made primarily by then CEO Les Hinton. Brooks agreed she knew Goodman was alleging that other staff at the News of the World were involved in intercepting voicemails and that he had named Andy Coulson and other executives. Brooks told the court that her involvement was to ascertain if Goodman would accept employment rather than a financial settlement to drop his claim for unfair dismissal.

    Spens put it to Brooks that the job offer was an attempt to end Goodman's appeal, to "buy him off on behalf of the company, to shut him up". The defendant said it was put to her that the company did not want to go through an embarrassing employment tribunal. Spens told the court Goodman was offered £12,500 for six months' work on a tribute magazine for Princess Diana, "a quarter of his previous salary with no promise of anything beyond". Brooks said she did not know what Goodman's salary had been so could not comment. The defendant agreed that she had later offered Goodman a sub-editor role, but both offers were rejected. Goodman's claim was later settled but Brooks said she was unaware of the details as she had been told it was confidential.

    Neil Saunders QC, for Charlie Brooks, then rose to question the witness. He asked Rebekah Brooks if she had ever discussed "leaks" from police Operation Weeting to the Guardian with her husband. The witness confirmed that they had.

    The next defence lawyer to question Brooks was William Clegg QC, acting for News of the World security chief Mark Hanna. Brooks denied she had much contact with Hanna and agreed the use of his first name in emails was "her style" and did now show evidence of any friendship between them. The witness told the court that there had been death threats made against her in April 2011 and that Hanna had put in place personal security for her and her family. She said, however, there was little contact between them. After the news broke that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked by a private detective acting for the News of the World the level of threat increased, Brooks agreed.

    Clegg then turned to 17 July 2011 when Brooks was first arrested by the police. The defendant said she did not think the security team was told she was due to visit a police station. "I was pretty paranoid about leaks," Brooks told the court. Brooks denied she had ever asked Mark Hanna to hide equipment or destroy documents on her behalf. "Absolutely not," the witness replied.

    With the defence lawyers' questioning over, Andrew Edis QC, the lead prosecutor, rose to cross-examine Rebekah Brooks. He opened by asking the defendant if, when she became CEO of News International in July 2009, she was aware the company was "covering up the extent of phone hacking". Brooks replied that she thought at that time that inquiries were completed and Goodman and Mulcaire had been the only people involved. Edis suggested to the witness that Goodman was the royal editor but most of the 100 victims of hacking known at that time were not members of the royal family and she had been told this by the police. "You knew the full truth had not emerged," Edis said. Brooks denied this saying: "I don't think I saw it like that." Edis replied: "What other way is there to see it". He then added: "In fact you knew the first inquiry had proved to be rather superficial." In response Brooks said: "I just didn't believe that at the time ... it was the counter-terrorism squad and they were taking the investigation very seriously."

    Edis suggested to the witness that the News of the World "rogue reporter" defence was not true, Brooks replied that this is what people believed at the time."Not by you," Edis responded. Edis asked if Brooks belived that News International's behaviour was "honourable" and suggested that when she took over as CEO she "carried on the cover-up". Brooks replied "no." Prosecution counsel then showed the court the sentencing remarks of Justice Gross in the 2007 sentencing of Glen Mulcaire which states: "On counts 16 to 20 you dealt not with Goodman but with others at News International." Edis asked Brooks if she was aware of this. The witness said she was not and her "state of mind at the time" was that hacking did not go "wider" than Clive Goodman. Edis suggested that Brooks was editor of the Sun at the time and must have paid attention to such a major news story. "You must have checked the coverage yourself," Edis suggested. "I must have done, yes," Brooks agreed but said "I knew Mulcaire was phone hacking but there was no evidence he passed the information on to anyone at the News of the World." Edis asked if the Sun had a journalist at the Old Bailey when the judge made his remarks, to which Brooks agreed "we must have had" but could not recall what reports she received.

    The court then took a short break.

    When court resumed Andrew Edis QC returned to the sentencing of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking in 2006. He asked the witness if she knew at the time what the judge had said. "I must have done at the time," Brooks replied. Edis then asked Brooks about a conversation she had with a senior police officer, detective chief inspector Surttes in 2006. Edis asked if the witness had taken notes and Brooks responded that as it was an off the record conversation she probably did not. The witness was then shown a note made by a News of the World legal advisor of his discussions with Brooks over the police meeting. The note says that police had identified 110 victims and Edis asked how she knew this. At this point Brooks' QC, Jonathan Laidlaw, intervened to object to the line of questioning. Edis said: "I'm grateful for that intervention." Laidlaw responded: "I doubt that very much."

    Brooks was asked if the police had told her at the meeting that Mulcaire had received over £1m in payments from the News of the World and that the victims included Max Clifford, Tessa Jowell and John Prescott. Brooks said police had told her about the payments but did not seem certain that the people named had been hacked. Brooks was asked about a line in the note that police were not pursuing other journalists as "they were only interested in people who were accessing voicemails themselves, this is what did for Clive." Brooks said that at the meeting she was mainly concerned with who was hacking her phone and believed that Mulciare was not working on behalf of the News of the World, as the paper would not print a story about the personal life of their own editor. Brooks told the court that she did not recall the police naming any other journalists in connection with phone hacking.

    Edis asked Brooks if it was important to News International to find out what the police were doing, and that was one of the reasons she met with DC Surttes. Brooks agreed that it was and that is why she had reported the conversation the legal advisor. The court was then shown a 2006 email exchange between Brooks and Andy Coulson. The mail opens with Brooks telling Coulson that "The Guardian have been on about my phone and or Dacre and other journalists." Coulson replied: "I think this was Les's idea but I don't see that it's partic [sic] helpful. Mulcaire will think we have leaked it and suddenly there is another name that could incriminate him." Brooks told the court that "Les" referred to Les Hinton, then CEO of News International. The email exchange continues with Brooks writing "why would you leak my phone??????? Or Dacre's phone????" and names other possible hacking victims as "jowell, kimberly, blunks etc etc so clearly police could leak that" adding "the police told me that myself so assume they told everyone they had interviewed." Brooks confirmed "blunks" was then home secretary David Blunkett. The witness was asked where she got the idea Blunkett's phone had been hacked, to which she replied: "I just don't remember it." Edis asked the witness if Coulson had ever told her Blunkett had been hacked. "No" she replied. "Never ever," Edis asked. "Not at the time," Brooks replied.

    The prosecution QC suggested to the witness that her email suggested Coulson already knew about the list of names. "Obviously we were talking about what was going on," Brooks said, adding that she had spoken to him about hacking when the first arrests happened. Brooks said that Coulson told her originally that he didn't know if the allegations were true or not and it was the police who told her Goodman "was bang to rights". Edis suggested to the witness that she had a "close and confidential friendship with Coulson" so it would be natural for them to talk about the case. Edis asked if Coulson had told her about a meeting he had with Goodman at the Cafe Rouge. Brooks said he might have but she could not recall exactly. The final line of the email exchange is Coulson saying "things are going well". Edis asked why things were "going well" when the royal editor of the paper had that day pleaded guilty to phone hacking and suggested he might say "going well" if there had been an agreement that Goodman would not name names. Brooks disagreed but could not offer any other explanation for Coulson using that phrase.

    Judge Saunders intervened and asked why, in the note of her meeting with police, convicted phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire is referred to only as "Glenn". Brooks said she did not use his first name and could not explain why the legal advisor was on first name terms with Mulcaire.

    Edis then asked the witness why she decided not to assist the police in 2006 when she was the victim of phone hacking. Brooks said it would be "complex" as she was editor of the Sun to be a prosecution witness against a "sister paper". Edis asked what the connection was and why "giving evidence against Glenn Mulcaire is giving evidence against the News of the World". Brooks replied "Mulcaire was hacking phones and giving information to the News of the World but police had told me they had no direct evidence anyone at the paper knew he was accessing voicemails."

    The prosecution QC then asked Brooks about her statement that "she deplored the act of snooping" represented by phone hacking. "Have you always thought that about hacking", Edis asked."Yes," the witness said. Edis asked what Brooks had done to prevent phone hacking at the Sun. "We made strenuous efforts to ensure the code was adhered to." Edis suggested "that sentence should have a not in it, and should read 'we have not made strenuous efforts to ensure the code was adhered to'," and suggested that at neither paper were any measures taken to prevent journalists hacking phones. Brooks disagreed and Edis asked: "Did you ever give specific instructions, don't hack phones?" "I didn't use that exact phrase," Brooks said. Edis asked if the paper employed any journalists that had breached the Press Complaints Commission code and kept their jobs. The witness said every story was different and this may have happened for minor breaches. The prosecution barrister asked about the clause stating any journalist who broke the law could be instantly dismissed. "That isn't true is it," he suggested. Brooks gave an example of a journalist smuggling a knife onto a plane to expose security failings as a time when a breach of the law was acceptable. "There are levels," the witness added. "Who decides," Edis asked, to which the witness said "the editor or the news editor" but agreed she would "usually want to know in advance if a journalist was intending to break the law".

    The lead prosecutor then brought into evidence a letter Brooks had written to the Press Complaints Commission about these issues that he said, given her evidence today, could now be regarded as "seriously misleading". Brooks disagreed.

    The court then rose for lunch.

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