Phone-hacking trial: Contracts, hacks and spooks
Proceedings opened this morning with the second day of testimony from Stuart Kuttner, who is charged with being part of a conspiracy to unlawfully intercept voicemails while he was managing editor of the News of the World. Kuttner, who is 73, has missed much of the case due to ill health so Justice Saunders told the court that the sitting would be shorter and have more frequent breaks to reduce the stress on the witness.
Jonathan Caplan QC, Kuttner's defence counsel, opened by outlining the prosecution case against his client, which was that the former managing editor was aware that the News of the World was paying private detective Glenn Mulcaire over £100,000 a year to hack phones to obtain information for stories. Kuttner told the court that was "completely false" and denied any suggestion that he had "cooked the books" to conceal the Mulcaire payments.
Court: Stuart Kuttner
Kuttner told the court he believed Glenn Mulcaire's company "Nine Consultancy Ltd" was a "research agency" of the kind used by many newspapers but he had no specific recollection of when he was told this. Private detectives, the defendant said, were used for tracing people or the families of people, obtaining addresses, checking on places of work and "generally building a picture of people we wanted to know more about". Kuttner added that it was "unwise for newspapers to print reports about people without giving them a chance to put their case", so tracing agents were used to contact the subjects of articles to give them a right to comment before publication. Kuttner said that when he was a reporter this was work he did himself, but he had been told that this method had become "out of date" by 2000.
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The defendant was then shown a 2001 contract between the News of the World and Mulcaire, which agreed to a payment of £92,000 for "research". Kuttner said he thought that was "a useful saving". The witness said he "vaguely" recalled a conversation with the news editor Greg Miskiw about the agreement but could not remember seeing the actual contract until he was shown it by his legal team while preparing for the trial. Kuttner told the court that these payments represented only 0.33 per cent of the entire News of the World editorial budget, adding: "The idea I would conceal such payments from Rupert Murdoch or the chief financial officer is utterly baseless, it's just not me."
The court was then shown emails from January 2007 in which Kuttner and then editor Andy Coulson discussed stopping Mulcaire's payments after he had been convicted for phone-hacking members of the Royal family. They agreed to make one last payment to Mulcaire "to keep him non-hostile until tomorrow" (Mulcaire was due to be sentenced the next day). Kuttner said he could not recall the conversation.
Court then rose for a short break.
When the jury returned, questioning then moved to the issue of Milly Dowler, a teenager who was abducted on the way home from school in March 2002 and murdered. The court was shown a letter the defendant sent to the chief constable of Surrey police in April 2002 which offered support to the police, including offering a reward. Kuttner said of liaising with the police on the matter that it "fell to me" and he was hoping "the newspaper with its huge readership could play a part in the investigation". In the letter, the former managing editor referred to a phone call he made to the police in which he was "trying to alert them to significant information relating to Milly Dowler". The information, the court was told, was that the News of the World had a recording of a message left on Dowler's phone offering her a job interview. They also had recordings of messages from "a grieving relative" and a "young boy". The police were told that a journalist, who we cannot name for legal reasons had got Dowler's voicemail and PIN from a "schoolfriend".
The defendant told the court that when questioned by police in 2011 he had no recollection of these events, however having seen further documents he agreed that he did recall giving this information to police. "The News of the World had obtained, by some method, information that could lead to the discovery of a missing girl so I contacted the police," he said, adding: "If it happened again today despite everything that has happened I'd do it again." Kuttner denied however that he had any knowledge that Glen Mulcaire had accessed Dowler's voicemail. Kuttner also told the court he had no idea that there was systematic voicemail hacking taking place on behalf of the newspaper. "It was not a form of work, or journalism I recognised," he said.
The defendant was then shown the first edition of the News of the World from 14 April 2002, which had an article titled "Milly voicemail messages probed". The piece quoted directly from the missing teenager's voicemail. Kuttner denied that he felt any anxiety at seeing the story published. The witness was then shown the third edition of that Sunday's paper, which had been edited to remove any reference to the voicemails. Kuttner told the court he would not have had any role in the change. On 19 April, Kuttner emailed Surrey police pointing out that the paper had changed its story due to information received from them that the messages may have been from a "professional hoaxer". The defendant said that it appeared the police were "casting doubt in the validity of the story so it was changed", but again said he had no direct role in the alterations.
The defendant was then asked about a 2004 News of the World story that then Home Secretary David Blunkett was having an affair with Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn. Kuttner said he was aware of the story as he had been told about it by then editor Andy Coulson, but was never told what the source of the story was. "I think they had been seen together at someone's flat or something," he said. The defendant said he had written a leader about the affair stating that Blunkett should not resign over the affair. "I think we rather liked David Blunkett," he told the court. Kuttner agreed that he had called journalist Simon Hoggart over his affair with Quinn. "I was the liaison with many people, politicians, peers of the realm over issues like this," he said. The defendant gave examples of this role such as being selected to contact Jeffrey Archer when the paper had discovered he had falsified his diary during a libel case, and speaking to London Mayor Boris Johnson when he had been discovered having an affair. At no time though, Kuttner said, had anyone informed him that any of these stories had been obtained from phone-hacking.
Jonathan Caplan QC then asked his client about August 2006 when News of the World Royal editor Clive Goodman was arrested for hacking the voicemails of members of the Royal household. Kuttner said he arrived at the office to find police officers waiting for him with a request to search Goodman's desk and computer. "I was very shocked," the witness told the court, and he said he immediately contacted a News International lawyer to liaise with the police. "It was a complete and inexplicable surprise," he added. When Goodman was released from custody, the defendant went to pick him up from the police station. "It was part of my job to put an arm round any reporter in trouble, newspapers are traditionally good at looking after their own," he said.
Kuttner said he visited Goodman at home the next day to give him some money and "demonstrate that we supported him". The defendant told the court he made a note of the conversation which was shown to the court. The note started: "Glenn introduced CG [Clive Goodman] and a serving spook... information leftover from secret service bugging."
"Eavesdropping from info from secret services, I don't know what this meant exactly," Kuttner said. The note went on "told Andy about this from the start", which the defendant confirmed was a reference to Andy Coulson. "I was just jotting down what Goodman said to me, the majority of it made little sense, and still does," he said. The note went on to say that Goodman had been questioned about hacks on "Mills, Glitter and Milosevic" but had said nothing in interview. Kuttner was asked if he believed Mulcaire had contacts in the security services. "I don't know if I thought one way or another about it at the time," he replied. The defendant told the court that he had "very little involvement" in Goodman's situation after this date.
The defendant was then confirmed that he retired in 2009 from News International when aged 69. Since then, Kuttner said, he has had a heart attack and a brain stem stroke.
Court then rose for lunch.