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Phone-hacking trial: Taking a punt on Blunkett, crack and paying the police

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.

Story: Former home secretary David Blunkett

  • Sophie Wessex story ran despite Palace agreement
  • "I took a punt" on Blunkett affair name, Brooks tells court
  • No checks made on names for cash payments
  • "Not unusual for police officers to ring with a tip," court told
  • The afternoon session at court 12 of London's Old Bailey began just after 2pm with Andrew Edis QC continuing the prosecution cross-examination of defendant Rebekah Brooks. The prosecution barrister told the court he was moving on to the subject of Sophie Wessex, the wife of Prince Edward. The News of the World had investigated allegations that Wessex was selling access to the Royal family via her PR firm, but as it did "not come up to scratch" they agreed with Buckingham palace not to run the story, in exchange for an exclusive interview. However, Edis told the court, the paper ran the story anyway and asked how this had come about. Brooks told the court that another paper, which she did not name, had run the story, presumably as a result of a "leak from the palace", she said, and, as there were "misquotes" in this account, they decided to run the original story.

    Brooks was then asked if Buckingham Palace had agreed to the paper running the story. "We told them," the defendant said. "Everyone got bonus cheques," Edis suggested and asked about the "ethical standards of agreeing not to run the story then running it". Brooks told the court that the original story was "out there" and as there was "more and more speculation" about what Wessex said, "we wanted to put the real story in the public domain". The defendant was asked about an email she sent subsequently to Greg Miskiw telling him that all investigations must be run properly. "Why did you have to tell Miskiw to stay within the law?" Edis asked. "Had he done anything against the law?" Brooks responded: "No." Edis reminded the jury that Miskiw now had a criminal conviction, and asked the defendant if anything about the Wessex investigation was against the law. Brooks said not in that case but gave the example of a drugs story during which reporters had purchased crack cocaine, "which is technically against the law".

    Judge Saunders then intervened and asked Brooks if she could help with something. He had the defendant look at a copy of a note of convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire which listed the details of Sophie Wessex. The defendant said she had "no idea what that was about".

    Edis then moved on to the subject of former home secretary David Blunkett, who the court has already heard was the subject of a 2004 story in the News of the World. Brooks was asked if she recalled that Blunkett had taped a conversation he had with Andy Coulson and asked about phone records which show Coulson called Brooks a few minutes before he met with Blunkett. The defendant said she could not recall the conversation. "Surely he told you," Edis suggested. "I've thought about this a lot and I don't recall him telling me, I was very close to Mr Blunkett and his special adviser's so I don't see him telling me unless he was going to be economical with the truth," Brooks responded. Edis told the court that "the story was largely the result of phone-hacking, did he tell you that?"

    "No," replied Brooks, adding she had not known about Blunkett's affair until Coulson told her on the Saturday evening before the News of the World was published.

    The prosecution QC then told the court that Coulson had agreed with Blunkett not to name the woman involved but the Sun, edited by Brooks, had named Kimberly Quinn the next day. Brooks was asked how she got the name. "We had no agreement with Mr Blunkett whatsoever," the defendant said. She said they had checked with their sources and "cuttings" from other newspapers, and confirmed it when one of Blunkett's special advisers, Hugh Evans, failed to deny the name was correct. Brooks said she thought the source was a "diary item" in the Daily Mail which reported Quinn had attended a state dinner with Blunkett. "The name was swirling round," she said. Edis put it to Brooks that she "risked looking like a fool if the name was wrong". Brooks said: "I took a punt," and denied that she had got the name from Andy Coulson. "I didn't know it was a phone-hacking story," Brooks said. "Didn't you?" Edis asked, adding: "You really can't remember where you got the information?" The defendant said she had spoken to many people that day and could not recall where exactly the name came from. Edis suggested: "The truth of it is Andy Coulson told you the name, and your next question would have been 'how do you know?'" Brooks replied: "Andy did not tell me the story came from phone-hacking."

    The prosecution barrister told the court that, for various reasons, he would be dealing with the "Milly Dowler episode on Monday" and asked the jury to look out their folders on count five of the indictment, a charge of conspiracy to corrupt a public official. Edis showed the witness a 2002 email between Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman discussing the purchase of a Royal phone book from a police officer. Jonathan Laidlaw, Brooks' counsel, then asked if the jury could leave the court while he raised a legal matter.

    When the jury returned Edis told them that he was making no suggestion that Brooks had been involved in the purchase of the Royal phone book but asked what the rules over paying police officers were. Brooks replied: "It's not usually done," but conceded she might approve it if there was an "overwhelming public interest". The jury was then shown a list of payments made by the News of the World which showed the £750 payment listed as "Royal research" and paid, in case, to a David Farrish. Brooks told the court that cash payments were used for confidential sources but the process included the journalist putting a name and address on the docket. There were, however, Brooks said, no checks made if the name and address were accurate.

    The court was then shown an email, first seen last week, from a journalist offering "inside information" about the arrest of a celebrity. The information, the email said, came from "someone who says they are a policeman". Brooks was asked if she had inquired if the policeman wanted to be paid. "I took it from the email that he hadn't given his details so I assumed it could just be a disgruntled custody sergeant," she said. Edis suggested: "Leaving aside the law, police officers are not supposed to do this kind of thing."

    "They do," Brooks replied. "They shouldn't," Edis said. "It's not unusual for a police officer to ring in with a tip," the defendant responded, adding "press and police work together, and share information all the time".

    Brooks told the court that "in her experience, serving police officers rarely ask for money". Edis asked: "Can you think of a situation where you have sanctioned paying a police officer?" The defendant said she could not think of an example. The court was shown another email which, Edis suggested, "could be read as a police officer asking for £500". That's one reading of it, Brooks said, but added that knowing the journalist concerned she did not think so. "Crime correspondents have contacts, sometimes information exchange is the currency," she said. Edis asked about the last line of the email: "I'm not sure about putting this on email where there is a permanent record."

    Brooks said her reading was that the journalist may have been "annoyed a payment had been rejected" but she did not remember receiving the message. "There is only one way of reading this," Edis said. "The journalist wants to pay a police officer £500, which is illegal, and he his annoyed about putting that on email." Brooks replied again that knowing the journalist concerned she did not agree.

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, Judge Saunders told the jury that court would not be sitting tomorrow due to a legal commitment.

    The next email shown to the court was from a journalist, who we cannot name for legal reasons, quoting a "prison source". Brooks said she could not tell from the email who the source was. "Did you ask?" Edis enquired. "I may have done," Brooks replied. Edis suggested that if the source was paid the paper would have to know who was receiving the money. "There would be financial records," the defendant agreed. "The source was then known within the paper," Edis suggested. The next email to Brooks shown to court was from a journalist asking for a payment of £1,000 to be made to a "serving police officer". The defendant said she did not particularly remember the story but there was "no suggestion the information was gained by the police officer in the course of his duties".

    "That's wishful thinking," Edis suggested. Brooks responded that she may not have even got the email concerned. Was paying police officers so common it "was not even memorable"? Edis asked. Brooks said she simply could not recall the situation but the reporter concerned was very experienced.

    Judge Saunders intervened at this point and asked what difference experience made in this situation. Brooks replied she meant the journalist "would have known the rules".

    "Did you not consider with some care where the stories were coming from?" Saunders asked. "I know they know the rules, I was not policing him," she responded. The prosecution QC asked the witness what she meant by the word "policing" in this context. "It's probably the wrong term to use in this sort of case," Brooks replied. "I meant that the newsroom doesn't work without trust." Edis put it to the witness that she was the editor, "not just a rubber stamp", and said if Brooks was correct her role in overseeing cash payments "was just a smokescreen, it doesn't mean anything". Edis suggested that the reason Brooks could approve payments so quickly was because "you already knew who the source was". The defendant denied that and said she was unaware the source for the Sun's military stories was a public official. "I was not looking for criminality," Brooks told the court, adding: "I have paid public officials, if he had come to me I would have paid for these stories." Edis suggested that to find out the name of the source Brooks "would just have to pick up the phone and ask the finance department".

    Judge Saunders asked the witness if this email "did not ring any alarm bells". Brooks replied that it did not.

    Court then rose until Monday

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

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