Phone-hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks faces Milly Dowler questions

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.

    Evidence: The case of murdered teen Milly Dowler was discussed

  • Phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire used in News of the World Sarah's Law campaign
  • Brooks told "question marks" over Milly Dowler's father raised by police
  • Journalists "were telling the police but not you?" Prosecution asks
  • Mulcaire asked to "write to" Soham killer Ian Huntley
  • Former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks sat in the witness box for the 12th day today, giving evidence in her defence on charges of conspiracy to intercept communications, commit misconduct in public office and pervert the course of justice.

    Andrew Edis QC, for the prosecution, opened today's evidence by asking the defendant if she knew the name Glenn Mulcaire. Brooks said she had never heard of him before 2006. The defence barrister then asked Brooks if she had tasked private detectives in relation to her campaign for Sarah's Law. The witness replied that she did get information about a particular paedophile and did ask a company called "JJ Services" to trace him. Brooks agreed that JJ Services was run by Steve Whittamore. The witness said she had discussed this at a parliamentary select committee in 2011. Judge Saunders reminded the barristers that there were "complex rules" about using evidence from a select committee in a court case due to "parliamentary privilege" and asked the witness to avoid mentioning the evidence she gave there.

    Edis asked the witness again how often she "tasked" Whittamore. "More than once," Brooks said, adding that she was aware the News of the World was using all the contacts they had to locate convicted paedophiles, including tracing agents. "It was all hands on deck," she told the court. Edis suggested to the witness that she would have been aware of the results delivered by private detectives as "you were going to put it in the paper and you would need to know the information was true and how it was obtained". Brooks said she did not check every one and relied on her department heads. "It was impossible for me to check every paedophile myself," she told the jury. "You didn't check any of them" Edis suggested. "I relied on the journalists out there, the good journalists. You can't do everyone's job for them," Brooks replied.

    The prosecution QC put it to Brooks that she must have known that by naming convicted paedophiles in her newspaper there was a "risk they would have been attacked" and the defendant agreed that was a possibility. Edis then showed the jury an email from July 2000 to a senior News of the World journalist, Greg Miskiw, called "sex files", which was a list of 22 people who had been convicted of sexual offences and a list called "perv 2" of phone calls and letters received from the public about the Sarah's Law campaign. Copies of these documents, the court was told, were found at the home of convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire. Brooks was asked if she knew that Mulcaire was assisting in the Sarah's Law campaign. The witness said she did not. "Did you ask who was doing this work that was so important to you?" Edis asked. Brooks replied: "Not who, just the type I think."

    The prosecution barrister then asked the jury to open a large folder called "The Milly Dowler Timeline". Edis asked Brooks if she took a special interest in the teenager's disappearance. "Of course I took an interest but not with the same intensity as over the Sarah's Law campaign," she said. The defendant explained that police had briefed her journalists that they had "question marks" over Milly Dowler's father so it was not a case of a "predatory paedophile". "We did not approach it in the same way as Sarah's Law," Brooks said. Edis asked why the paper had offered a reward for information if it was thought the police already knew who was responsible. "We took guidance from the police," the defendant replied.

    Brooks was then shown a list of stories the paper was considering publishing on 26 March 2002 which listed the Milly Dowler story as the third most important. Brooks was asked why the story was called "Milly Murder". Brooks said she did not know as in her view the story was that Dowler had run away but she could not remember events from 12 years ago exactly. Brooks was then shown a draft leader column from 30 March 2002 which explicitly linked Dowler to Sarah's Law. "There was in your mind potentially a link?" Brooks was asked. "Yes," she replied, and agreed that she would have been "extremely interested" in the story but had taken on board the police briefing which had wrongly suggested Dowler's father was involved in her disappearance. "I don't think that was in my mind when I went on holiday," she said. Edis asked if Brooks had "told the police any of this" during her interviews. "I don't think it was in my prepared statement," the defendant replied. "It wasn't," Edis said, and he put it to Brooks that when she was asked by police in 2011 about the Dowler case she kept silent. "I didn't answer questions on legal advice" Brooks replied.

    The defendant was then shown an email, from News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner to Surrey police informing them that the paper had traced seven paedophiles in the area that Dowler lived. Brooks said she could not recall if she had been told at the time. "It's possible," she said. "Would this not have stuck in your mind?" Edis asked. "I just can't remember," the defendant replied. The email from Kuttner went on to tell the police that the News of the World was ready to offer a reward for information on Dowler's disappearance. "That was normal," Brooks said, adding: "I'm sure I might have said at the time, offer a reward."

    "Would that have required your authority as editor?" Edis asked. "I don't remember the exact conversation, but it's absolutely what we would do," the defendant replied. The police at this time declined the offer of a reward as they were "still receiving good supporting coverage from the media and would like to keep a reward in reserve in case the story goes cold".

    The jury was then shown a collection of News of the World articles about Milly Dowler. This, the prosecution suggested, showed "substantial interest" from the paper in the teenager's disappearance, including two page spreads in subsequent issues. Brooks was asked it would have been a front page story if Dowler was found alive by the News of the World. The defendant replied that it would depend on the circumstances. "If she had run away with a girlfriend to Eastbourne it might not have." The prosecution QC asked if the story "News of the World finds missing schoolgirl the cops couldn't find" would have made the front page. The witness agreed that would have. Edis then suggested to the witness that although she was in Dubai, phone records show she was still working on stories, adding: "If the paper had found her you would have to decide what went on the front page." Brooks replied that she would have talked to her deputy, Andy Coulson, about it.

    Judge Saunders then asked Brooks if she was "surprised no-one mentioned the fact the paper had information that Dowler might be alive". Brooks said: "It's difficult to put myself in their shoes but if they had known for sure Milly Dowler was working in a factory in Telford I'm sure they would have told me, but nobody did tell me."

    The court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, Andrew Edis QC asked the witness if she would have expected her staff to tell her that a team of reporters had been sent to Telford to look for Dowler if she had been editing that week's paper. Brooks replied that often reporters only told the editor about stories when they had "come to fruition". The defendant was then shown an article that appeared in a first edition of the 15 April 2002 edition of the News of the World that quoted from Dowler's voicemails and asked if she had seen it. Brooks again said she had not.

    The prosecution barrister then reminded the jury that Glenn Mulcaire hacked Dowler's voicemail on 10 April 2002 while Brooks was in Dubai. Phone records show, the court was told, that the defendant was in regular contact with the office while she was away and Brooks agreed that she would have regularly spoken to her deputy editor, Andy Coulson, during that time, especially later in the week when "decisions had to be made" about what was to appear in that Sunday's paper. Edis asked if Brooks had spoken to Coulson about Dowler. The defendant said she could not remember the details of the conversations. The prosecution suggested to the witness that the dispatch of five or six journalists to Telford to look for Milly Dowler meant this was a big story and asked again if she denied having a conversation with anyone about it. "I don't recall having one," Brooks replied. "That's not the same as denying it," Edis said.

    Edis then reminded the witness that as she had already testified that in 2002 she did not think phone-hacking was illegal, there would have been nothing to stop her telling the police about the intercepted voicemails. Brooks said if she had been sure at the time "I would not have wasted a minute telling them so they could tell her family". Judge Saunders asked: "Would you have to be sure?" The defendant replied that it would depend on the source. The prosecution QC reminded the witness that the News of the World had not told the police about the information on the voicemail and she was asked who should have made that decision. "It could only have been my deputy or the night editor," the witness replied.

    The prosecution then moved on to Brooks' return to the paper, the Wednesday after the voicemail story had been published, and she was asked if she had discussed the Dowler story. The defendant agreed she may have as it was an ongoing investigation. "How could you possibly have discussed it without anyone mentioning what was reported in last week's paper?" Brooks replied she would have only have been told "what was coming up" and had no recollection of anyone mentioning the intercepted voicemails. The defendant was asked if Neville Thurlbeck would have been present at conferences held that week to plan the next issue of the paper. Brooks replied that he would have been unless he was away or in a meeting. Records of that week's twice daily conferences, the court was told, showed the Dowler story was on the agenda for every one.

    Brooks was then asked about an email her managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, sent that week to Surrey police informing them the paper had recordings of Dowler's voicemails. "You must have known," Edis suggested. "I didn't," Brooks replied. "They were telling the police but not you?" the prosecution barrister asked. "No-one ever told me there was hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemails," Brooks told the jury.

    The prosecution then moved on to another set of stories from the summer of 2002, about two police officers who were involved in the Soham murder inquiry "downloading child porn". Brooks agreed she had been involved in discussions about this piece "as it was on the news list" for the twice daily conferences. The defendant was shown pages from Glenn Mulcaire's notes which had the details of the two officers, with the name "Neville" on the top right hand corner. Brooks said she did not recall the details but must have discussed the story with news editor Neville Thurlbeck.

    Emails shown to the court showed that Brooks was asking Thurlbeck about accessing an illegal website. "You were asking them to commit a crime," Edis said. Brooks replied that she felt it was in the public interest to find out what sort of child pornography the police officers were looking at. "I thought it was a good thing for the paper to do," she said. Edis asked the witness if she was aware two police operations - "Candyman" in the USA and "Ore" in the UK - were already underway and as the websites had been shut down, he asked what was the public interest was. Brooks said that checking the websites were shut down was part of the public interest. Edis suggested: "You just wanted to get a better story." Brooks denied this and said establishing the sites were shut down was part of the paper's campaign to "clean up the internet".

    Judge Sauders then said that the emails suggested that the investigation appeared to be about what was on the website, not whether or not it was shut down. Brooks replied that they were trying to find out how serious the content on the site was. The prosecution then showed the witness an email sent to her which said: "The Daily Mail is working on the theory that a body found in woods was that of Milly Dowler."

    "Right oh," Brooks replied.

    Brooks was then asked about a tasking of Glenn Mulcaire on the "Soham murders" which included "writing" to Ian Huntley, who was on remand for the murders. Brooks said that the paper usually got someone from "outside" to write to people like Huntley but she did not remember being told that Mulcaire was given the role. Judge Saunders asked why a paper would write to person on remand, Brooks said the idea was to "to pose as a pen-pal to gather evidence".

    The court then rose for lunch.

    Click here to view more posts from The Drum's daily phone-hacking trial coverage

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