Phone-hacking trial: Horses and novels, paranoia and arrests

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.

  • Cheryl Carter defence ends, Charlie Brooks takes stand
  • Court hears about defendant's horse training and writing career
  • Rebekah Brooks' paranoia was press getting "killer photo" of her in handcuffs
  • Tom Watson MP "hated my wife", Brooks says
  • Brooks originally thought Dowler story a "political hit" to "derail sky bid"
  • Proceedings resumed at court 12 of London's Old Bailey this morning to hear the final section of Rebekah Brooks' PA Cheryl Carter's defence on the charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by, the prosecution say, hiding seven boxes of documents from police investigating phone-hacking at the News of the World. Carter, the court has heard, claims the documents belonged to her and were unrelated to the police inquiry. The jury were informed yesterday that Carter would be calling two witnesses in her defence.

    The first witness called was Belinda Sharrier, former PA for Andy Coulson. Sharrier told the court that she had known Carter for 12 years and described her as "adorable", adding: "She does not have a bad bone in her body." The witness was asked if she had ever used the News International archive and she told the jury she had, in relation to a charity event, "Children's Champions", which the News of the World organised. Sharrier was shown an "archive record form" and was asked if she had ever seen one of these before. The witness said she had not but her assistant may have completed it for her. The witness said that she was "led to believe" that the archive would only accept items "under an editor's name".

    As Sharrier is due to give evidence again for her former boss Andy Coulson, there was no cross-examination and the witness stepped down.

    The next person called to the stand was Sharon Hendry, a senior feature writer at the Sun. Hendry told the court that Carter was a "very warm and down to earth person". The witness told the court that she had approached Carter to write a beauty column. "She knew what our readers like so she was the obvious choice," she said. Hendry told the court that her mum kept copies of all her articles. "Most of our colleagues do, it's incredibly useful." Judge Saunders asked the witness if this was so she could "write the same stories again". Hendry laughed and said she wouldn't do that.

    Andrew Edis for the prosecution then rose to cross-examine and asked the witness if it was in fact Rebekah Brooks who suggested Carter write the column. Hendry said no but agreed that, as editor, Brooks would have approved the appointment.

    The witness then left the stand.

    The court was then read a statement from Melanie Westwood. Westwood's statement described a car accident her daughter suffered and went on to say how helpful Carter had been after the incident including inviting her to stay in a property rent-free. Trevor Buke QC then told the court he had completed his defence and the court took a short break.

    When the jury returned, defendant Charlie Brooks took the stand. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by, the prosecution allege, hiding documents and electronic devices from police investigating his wife Rebekah Brooks in July 2011. The 51 year old took the oath and his barrister, Neil Saunders, asked him about his family background and schooling. "I didn't do well in my A levels," the witness told the court, and after Oxford university rejected his application he became a "stable lad" before being promoted to "assistant trainer". He then became a amatuer jockey, winning a race at the Cheltenham festival, and riding in the Grand National. When his boss, Michael Winter, had a stroke, Brooks took over the running of the stables becoming, he said, the youngest horse trainer in the country. In 1988, Brooks said, he made "the incredibly foolish decision" to buy the yard from the Winter family but rising interest rates forced him to sell up.

    The court was told that Brooks became a journalist by "writing an awful column in the Daily Standard" and later writing for the Telegraph and GQ magazine. "It was incredibly stressful, it killed every creative bone in my body," the defendant told the court. Brooks told the court he also purchased a pub with a friend called "Johnny the fish". "I found out why he was called the fish," Brooks said, again leading to laughter in court. "I hope he is not listening," Judge Saunders said. Another project he was involved with included Cryogenic therapy. "Did it work?" the judge asked. "No," Brooks replied. The defendant told the court he currently works with another friend buying, selling and training racehorses.

    Brooks told the court he first met his wife Rebekah in 2006 and "initiated a chance meeting in March 2007" at a friend's house in Chipping Norton. Brooks then became emotional when talking about Ian Wooldridge, a friend who died on the same day. "It was incredibly sad, but brought me and Rebekah together," he said, as they went to church to light a candle in his memory. They started living together a couple of months later, Brooks said, and in 2007 moved into a flat at Thames Quay in London, but spent weekends at Brooks' Oxfordshire property at Jubilee Barn. Brooks later wrote a novel, Citizen, about "the Russians trying to corner the stallion market in Europe by cloning horses". He was later told by his publisher to not write any more "horsey" books as there was no market for them, and was told to "re-invent James Bond". Brooks told the court he hired another writer to make the plot more complicated for his novel about art forgery, Switch. Reviews, Brooks said, later criticised the book as being too complicated.

    In July 2011, Brooks said, he was working on his book after receiving a "withering response" from his publishers over the first draft. He was using one of the laptops the police say the defendant hid from their investigation. Another computer, a "Sony Vio" laptop, also had a number of draft book outlines including a "Bill Bryson for horses" idea, the court was told.

    The defence barrister asked the witness if he was aware of the security precautions surrounding his wife. Brooks said she had received "kidnap threats from paedophiles on the internet" and he met with News International security chief Mark Hanna to discuss protecting her. There were, the defendant said, two shifts of security staff covering the houses, "I said good morning to them every day and I might have known their christian names," Brooks told the court. "Rebekah had really good hearing and they used to wake her up," he added.

    The witness was then shown an email discussing Chris Bryant MP from April 2011 who had said in parliament that he believed "hacking started with Rebekah Brooks while she was editor of the News of the World". Brooks had emailed a senior director at News International, Will Lewis, asking about the comments. "Bryant is just making it up," Lewis replied. "I knew you didn't have to tell the truth in the house of Commons." Judge Saunders intervened, reminding the court: "We have to be really careful what we say about the House of Commons."

    The defendant went on: "It was a pretty serious allegation and I knew Chris Bryant had a grudge against the Sun." The court was then shown further emails between the witness and others discussing a draft statement to be released by Rebekah Brooks on the phone-hacking issue. This contained an "unreserved apology" and a pledge to conduct a "full investigation". The defendant said that he was copied in "so I could be kept in the loop to give Rebekah informed support".

    The defence barrister asked the witness if in spring 2011 he was aware that information was being leaked from the police investigation about phone-hacking to the Guardian newspaper. Brooks said he did, and had listened in to conference calls about the subject. He also told the court that his wife had been told that she might be arrested in April 2011 and "her paranoia was that there would be a killer photograph of her being led away from home in handcuffs". "She knew she would never get another job if that happened," he said. The couple discussed the issue and met with lawyers to try and avoid the press finding out about any arrest. The witness told the court that he also knew his wife had contacted her former husband, actor Ross Kemp, to tell him that his voicemail had been intercepted. "We thought Ross would probably kick off," he told the court.

    The defendant was then asked about 4 July 2011, when the news broke that murdered teenager Milly Dowler had her phone hacked by a private detective working for the News of the World while his wife was the editor. Brooks said he first heard about the issue when he got an email from a News International executive and he emailed Will Lewis about it, calling the revelation "another attempted hit by Watson". Brooks confirmed that this referred to MP Tom Watson, adding: "Mr Watson hated my wife." The witness told the court that "the police would leak to the Guardain, who would leak it to Watson", and told the court he met with James Murdoch to discuss if this was a "political hit". They had concluded "this was too awful to be true", but there was "too much substance to it just to be an attempt to derail the Sky bid". In an email, Brooks told his wife to stress that "the police had been sitting on this evidence for six years". "I thought that was incredibly important," the defendant told the court.

    The witness was then asked about an email he wrote to his wife headed "Swan, baby swan, xxx". Brooks told the court: "Rebekah was under the cosh, the wolves were after her, I thought it was important that she did not let anyone know she was struggling, it was just supportive advice." In a 5 July 2011 email shown to the court, Brooks suggested that his wife stay in a hotel to avoid the media. "I didn't want Rebekah getting hassled," the witness said. In further emails Brooks and security chief Mark Hanna discussed trying to persuade the police to arrest his wife in an underground car park or at the station to avoid the press "getting that killer photograph". The "paranoia we were living with", the witness said, was so strong that hearing binmen outside made him think "the police were about to kick in the door". The couple discussed "swapping flats with someone else so they would be the ones getting woken up at 4.45am in the morning".

    The court was then again shown an email from former Prime Minister Tony Blair to Rebekah Brooks. Charlie Brooks said he was not aware at the time that Blair was talking to his wife but described Rupert and James Murdoch as "incredibly supportive throughout".

    Court then rose for lunch.

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