Phone-hacking trial: Baroness Sayeeda Warsi gives character reference for Andy Coulson

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.

    Statement: Baroness Warsi gave a character reference for Coulson

  • Clive Goodman re-admitted to hospital
  • Health update due tomorrow
  • Telegraph CEO and government minister provide character references for Andy Coulson
  • New indictment given to jury, charge changed from conspiracy to "substantive offence"
  • Judge sums up questions jury have to answer
  • After being excused for six days, the jury at the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and four others took their seats to hear the final part of Coulson's defence on charges of illegally intercepting communications and conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. Before proceedings commenced, the judge updated the jury on the current stage of the trial, telling them that all evidence would be completed today with the exception of Clive Goodman who, the court was told, has been re-admitted to hospital. Lord Justice Saunders said he would be getting a medical update on Goodman tomorrow and would inform the jury of progress then.

    There court was then read character statements about Coulson.

    The first of these was from Helen Fisher, a freelance journalist, who stated that she had known the former editor since he was 19 years old and described him as "charming and likeable" and good with her children. She also praised his help when her husband was ill.

    The second statement was from Tory peer Baroness Warsi who described Coulson as "a normal and grounded person in the heady world of politics". Warsi went on to state that Coulson helped her prepare for appearances on Question Time, including one that featured BNP leader Nick Griffin on the panel.

    The final statement was from Murdoch MacLennan, CEO of Telegraph Media Group. The court heard that MacLennan admired Coulson's professionalism and achievements at the News of the World and at Downing Street and stated he had a thoughtful personality and was always a great support to his colleagues. The statement ended with the Telegraph CEO stating he had always found Coulson "honest and reliable".

    The court was then read some admissions concerning fingerprint evidence relating to the charge against Charlie Brooks and Mark Hanna of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by hiding bags containing electronic equipment and documents from police investigating Rebekah Brooks. Judge Saunders told the jury to take note of the evidence as "the significance will no doubt be explained later".

    The jury was then given a new indictment by Judge Saunders. The judge said some of the changes were "cosmetic", but count seven has been changed from "conspiring to pervert course of justice" to the substantive charge "perverting the course of justice". Saunders told the jury this was for "technical reasons" which he would not explain to the jury.

    The judge told the jury that while the "law is my job", any opinion he had of the facts was irrelevant and if they detected a view they should ignore it. He then went on to list a series of questions that the jury should consider when coming to their verdict. He began by defining conspiracy as an "agreement by two or more people to commit a criminal offence, intending to carry it out". This might not be written down, he said, but there must be more than just knowledge, there must be a "meeting of minds". Saunders also noted that "a conspirator can leave a conspiracy or join it at a later date".

    On count one, conspiracy to intercept communications, Saunders told the jury they must consider the cases of Brooks, Coulson and Kuttner separately, finding one guilty, he said, does not mean they were all guilty. The judge also noted that all of the defendants had said they did not know phone-hacking was illegal before 2006. "Ignorance of the law is no defence," Saunders said, adding that there was no "public interest defence" on this charge. The judge then noted that there was an "ongoing conspiracy" that people joined at various points and that the jury would have to judge if these defendants became part of it at any time during the period of the charge. The question the jury had to answer, then, was: "Are you sure that the defendant you are considering agreed with at least one other person to access someone's voicemail?" If the jury were, Saunders said, the verdict must be guilty. The judge then went through in detail what the jury would have to consider in relation to Stuart Kuttner, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson on this charge.

    The judge then asked if the jury were holding up adding: "It is generally agreed that the summing up is the most boring part of any case."

    Saunders then went on to count five of the indictment, which is a charge against Rebekah Brooks of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. The judge told the court that to prove this charge the jury would have to agree that they were sure that Brooks knew the payments she approved were to a public official and that they were for information the official held "in the public trust". Saunders noted Brooks had discussed a "public interest defence" when she had admitted paying officials in other cases. The judge told the court that was only a defence for the official, not for the person paying that official. What the prosecution had to prove, Saunders said, was that Brooks knew when she authorised payments that the person being paid held a public office.

    The judge then moved on to counts six and seven, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. On count six, those accused are Rebekah Brooks and Cheryl Carter. Saunders told the court that as only two people are charged, the jury would have to either find both of them guilty or neither of them guilty, as a conspiracy had to involve more than one person. The prosecution also had to prove, Saunders said, that the removal of the boxes occurred with the intent of hiding relevant information from the police.

    Saunders then moved on to the final charge, count seven. This charge alleges that Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie and News International security chief Mark Hanna removed and hid relevant material to conceal evidence from police investigating phone hacking at the News of the World. The defence case, the judge said, was that there was no intention to pervert the course of justice and the material hidden was legal pornography that would cause embarrassment if discovered. Saunders told the jury they would have to decide on the intent of each of the three conspirators, adding that if they found Charlie Brooks not guilty they would have to find his wife and Hanna not guilty, too.

    Court then rose for the day.

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

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

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