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Phone-hacking trial: Binology, cooking the books and affairs of the heart

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 and Andy Coulson

  • Brooks accused of "cooking the books" over hidden hacker contract
  • Departments responsible for their own spending defendant says
  • Visibly upset Brooks denies six year affair
  • Court resumed this morning with Andrew Edis QC, lead prosecution counsel, continuing his cross-examination of former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks. Edis began where he left off yesterday by bringing into evidence budgetary documents relating to Brooks' editorship of the News of the World. The paper's "financial performance was disappointing," the QC suggested. "That's not what my bosses said," the defendant replied, arguing that the News of the World was "producing a good paper with good stories" and that her editorial budget was raised year on year.

    Edis then asked the witness to confirm that in her time as editor she promoted both Greg Miskiw and Neville Thurlbeck and asked why Brooks had thought Miskiw was a good choice as head of the paper's investigations team. "There was no love lost between us," Brooks replied, but added: "He was very experienced and ran a good team of reporters. He seemed to know what he was doing, he was a wise head." Miskiw and Thurlbeck, the jury have heard, have both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept voicemails.

    The prosecution QC asked Brooks about the £92,000 per annum contract between the News of the World and convicted phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire. The defendant said that as far as she was concerned the paper used private investigators for legitimate purposes such as tracing people. Edis suggested that the contract with Mulcaire was hidden – "the books were cooked," he said. "I don't know what you mean by book cooking," Brooks responded, adding that she had "no visibility" of the payments. Edis questioned the witness if she accepted that "this contract was hidden" and asked if anyone ever told her 'I'm paying £1769 a week to a company I've never heard of. I don't know what they do, is that all right boss?' Brooks continued to deny she was ever told about the Mulcaire payments.

    Edis then asked the former editor how each department's budget was arrived at. Brooks said the paper looked ahead for any big spends that might be ahead, such as a major sporting event or a book coming out which they would be looking to serialise. Edis then went through the budget and suggested that the discretionary spend of the newsdesk was only £2.2m. Brooks replied that she only looked at the weekly spending limit of each department and did not follow the detail of how each department spent its allocation. "It was their choice," she told the jury.

    The prosecution barrister then brought into evidence a newspaper article from 2000 in which Brooks is quoted as saying she wanted to bring "serious campaigning journalism" to the News of the World. "Did this mean more investigations," Edis asked. The witness replied that the paper had always done investigations but agreed that one of her first acts as editor was to set up an investigations unit. The barrister asked if this involved "binology", which involved going through rubbish to look for materials that may lead to stories. Brooks said she disapproved of the practice and Edis asked: "Did you ever tell your staff not to do it?" "I told them to stick to the PCC code," the witness replied. Edis then asked: "Did you ever take any steps to stop this happening?" Brooks replied: "I told my desk heads our standards had to be high, we have to be above the law, sorry within the law." Brooks however could not recall if she had ever told her staff directly not to engage in the practice.

    Edis then asked the witness if she would ever authorise the interception of telephone calls if she thought it was justified in the public interest, Brooks said: "It would have to be a pretty high bar and it never happened through my editorship." Edis asked the witness if she knew at the time that hacking voicemails was illegal. The defendant said that she did not, but was never asked to sanction it during her editorship. Brooks agreed that she knew the practice existed "as there was a lot of publicity over it in the late 90s."

    Edis suggested to the witness that given that Brooks did not think hacking was illegal "it was quite an obvious thing to do for an investigation". Judge Saunders then intervened and said to the witness: "It appears journalists only came to you after they had done something, if they phone hacked and got nothing they probably wouldn't tell you. Didn't you need to tell your journalists don't ever phone hack, did you ever do that?" Brooks replied: "You have to establish a newsroom with high ethics." Saunders then asked when would Brooks be informed in advance about possible illegal actions by her reporters. "When there was a high chance of arrest," she replied, giving the example of a case when two News of the World journalists placed a St George's flag on top the Eiffel Tower in Paris and were detained by French police. Edis suggested to Brooks that she knew her audience was still "white van man" interested in scandal and celebrity. Brooks replied that she had attempted to shift the News of the World from relying solely on that audience.

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned Andrew Edis QC showed Brooks an email from 2000 in which she asks for pay rises for "self-generating" journalists" who were better value than than buying in expensive stories from outside contributors". The defendant told the court that due to the campaign for "Sarah's law" there were budgetary concerns at that point and she was trying to avoid paying "people like Max Clifford" for articles. Edis then asked Brooks about her contract which states that as editor she is responsible for administrating the annual budget. "You decide what the money is spent on, that's your job," he suggested. "You could also hire and fire as you saw fit", Edis added. "Subject to employment law," Brooks replied. Edis put it to the witness that "entering into an agreement with Mr Mulcaire was something you were responsible for". Brooks agreed that the Mulcaire contract "should have come to me" but insisted it did not. "If i had discovered it I would have asked questions," the defendant said.

    The prosecution QC returned to the issue of budgets and asked Brooks how she managed each department's spending. The defendant said she set weekly spending limits and relied on the managing editor to alert her to any "trends in overspends" by each department. Edis asked Brooks: "Was there close scrutiny on what everyone was spending?" The defendant said there was but this was primarily a role for the managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, not herself. "That means he had to know where the money was going?" the defendant agreed and confirmed Kuttner reported to her. "You were his boss," Edis said, and put it Brooks that Kuttner "worked closely with you".

    Edis then asked Brooks that if she had found out about Mulcaire's contract "would Mr Kuttner have been in trouble for allowing this to happen?" The defendant said that it was hard to say as that would have depended on his explanation. "He may or may not just have missed it," she explained. The prosecution barrister asked Brooks if she had any concerns about the employment of private detectives. "I thought they were doing legitimate work, like tracing people over Sarah's law," adding that "department heads had autonomy, like it was there own business, as long as they stuck to the weekly spending limit they could spend the money as they liked".

    The prosecution QC then showed the witness an email to department heads from Kuttner asking each of them to send him a list of every payment for a story of over £1000. Brooks agreed she was aware that this was done. "It was Mr Kuttner's way of getting a quick overview," she said and agreed that if he thought there was a big "waste of money he would bring that to my attention". In 2000, Edis said, the News of the World had overspent its budget by £4.5 million which Brooks explained was mainly down to costs associated with the paper's campaign for "Sarah's law". That's not what it says here, Edis suggested, pointing to an email which put the costs of the Sarah's law campaign at £275,000. Brooks disagreed saying that "in my mind the cost was about £2 million".

    Edis then told the witness he was changing the subject and said he had to ask "a few, just a few, questions about this letter" – a letter, the jury has already seen that Brooks wrote to co-defendant Andy Coulson. The prosecution QC asked the defendant about a passage were she says to Coulson: "I confide in you". I trusted him, Brooks agreed. "Would that include secrets from work," Edis asked. "I meant emotionally," the witness replied but agreed that Coulson "was more than an ordinary work colleague". Brooks told the court: "The work side was complex because of the relationship we had. I think this kind of emotion made things more difficult." Edis put to Brooks that in 2004 they were both editors and suggested that it was "quite likely that the two papers [the Sun and the News of the World] were co-operating more than usual." Brooks disagreed and said if anything "the emotional turmoil made it more difficult to co-operate" and the rivalry "was a traditional thing, my news editor would not speak to the News of the World news editor. The relationship between the two of us was made impossible by the jobs we had. The intimacy, as you call it, made it harder not easier work wise."

    Edis asked the witness to confirm that athough her relationship with Coulson ended at this point in 2004 it resumed later. "Were you talking to each other in that confidential way by August," he asked. Brooks agreed they were. The prosecution QC apologised for raising the issue and said "I'm doing this now so we can have a break straight afterwards". Judge Saunders, to a visibly upset Rebekah Brooks, said that "this is a public court and the public have the right to follow proceedings". Edis went on to ask: "There would be no reason for you to lie in this letter". But the witness denied there had been a six-year affair. "At that moment that's how I felt. In that time I had got back together with Ross, bought a house, tried to have a baby, Andy Coulson had also moved on with his life. In my heart I thought I had waited for six years but we just didn't have an affair for six years."

    The prosecution barrister then asked about her relationship with Coulson in 2002 and asked: "If a deputy editor was committing a crime he might not want his editor to know, but he might if he trusted her, was your relationship that trusting in 2002?" "Yes," Brooks replied.

    Court then rose for lunch.

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