Phone-hacking trial: No smoking gun in Rebekah Brooks case, court told

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.

  • Rebekah Brooks' counsel begins closing argument
  • Accuses media of "bias and downright cruelty" towards his client
  • "No smoking gun," barrister tells jury
  • Only 12 hacks and one story while Brooks editor, QC tells jury
  • Phone hacking a "rare event", not clear editor would have known, counsel says
  • Proceedings opened this morning to hear Jonathan Laidlaw QC begin his closing speech in defence of his client, former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks. He began by thanking the jury for their patience over what he called the "inevitable interruptions", saying "we all appreciate what you have done at appreciable cost to your own lives".

    Laidlaw went on to ask the jury to consider how they would have felt if they had sat in the public gallery watching the trial of a member of their own family. "You would have been all to aware that the trial had been conducted under the glare of media bias," he said, calling much of the coverage full of "inaccuracy, bias and downright cruelty". His client, the barrister said, "had started yards behind".

    Laidlaw then turned to the prosecution and asked the jury to consider that they had not looked at the evidence fairly. They had called witnesses who had "lied to the jury" and seen police officers "misrepresent evidence". The prosecution had changed its story, the defence barrister said. They have "twisted and turned," he added. Laidlaw said he would like to highlight one example of the prosecution "twisting the truth" and named a police officer, DC Pritchard, who had given evidence about an early morning police raid on the house of Rebekah Brooks. Laidlaw asked the jury to recall Pritchard's evidence on his application for a search warrant that he had not told the magistrate police had already copied the files from Brooks' computer during an earlier search. Laidlaw called this "misleading" and noted "none of the prosecution team rose to put him right". He added: "The prosecution have lost their way."

    The defence barrister went on to note that the case had been known as "the trial of the century", saying "much nonsense had been written about Rebekah Brooks, but we do not seek special treatment, we want the same protection given to everyone who stands trial, a fair mind for the jury and a complete focus on the evidence". Laidlaw then turned to count one, phone hacking.

    The QC asked the jury to consider they would have expected a mass of evidence to "demonstrate that Mrs Brooks was, as suggested, the architect of hacking at the News of the World," but he argued "there was no smoking gun" and the case was "entirely circumstantial". The Crown, Laidlaw said, was trying to have the jury accept that because Greg Miskiw and Neville Thurlbeck had pleaded guilty over phone hacking then his client was also guilty "They could have been up to it without her knowledge at all," the barrister said, asking the jury to consider that phone hacking was "rare" during her period as editor.

    Laidlaw said that the prosecution had only identified one story sourced from hacking while Brooks was in charge of the paper, that of Milly Dowler, while Brooks was, in Laidlaw's words "thousands and thousands of miles away in Dubai". Laidlaw also noted that there was no hacking while Brooks edited the Sun. "Is that a coincidence?" he asked.

    The barrister then had displayed in court notes found at police at the home of convicted phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire. "He always wrote down the information he needed to hack phones, it's not the kind of thing you do from memory," he said. However as there was a problem with the court screens the court took a short break.

    When proceedings resumed Laidlaw had the screens in court display the taskings of phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire on singer Charlotte Church, Amanda Holden and Mandy Dowler, all of which contained, the barrister said, phone hacking information. However, 538 times out of the 550 notes from Brooks' editorship, there is no hacking information. "Mr Edis spoke to you about the 05/06 figures, you cannot just assume the amount of hacking then was the same as 2002 2004," Laidlaw said. "There were only 12 hacking records while Brooks was editor," he went on, "if Mulcaire was paid £92,000 only to hack phones and only managed 12 do you not think his contract would have been brought to an end before it was?" He added: "When [Brooks] was in charge there was hardly any hacking and only one story was published as a result, Milly Dowler."

    The defence barrister told the jury that the prosecution claimed that there were a further three stories linked to hacking at the News of the World while Brooks was editor. The first was about Charlotte Church, however, Laidlaw said, "there is nothing obvious in the article that links to phone hacking". The same, he said, was true about articles relating to Amanda Holden, which the barrister said was based on an interview. Laidlaw made the point that even if a hack had taken place, if no information from the hack ended up in the story Brooks could not have even asked a question about it. "It does not take the prosecution any further in their attempt to prove 'she must have known'. The prosecution have fallen a long way short of proving hacking was prolific under Rebekah Brooks."

    Laidlaw then asked the jury to consider what Mulcaire did other than hack phones, calling the prosecution claim he did nothing else as a "false point, contradicted by his own witness". The defence barrister asked the jury to consider that the police's finding were that Mulcaire mostly carried out "blagging" securing information under false pretences. "There are 176 notes from Mulcaire linked to blagging as against 12 for hacking," he said, adding that for the prosecution "this is not a great start is it?"

    Laidlaw showed the jury a note from Mulcaire regarding a Chris Mitchell, who had been in prison with Jeffrey Archer. "They wanted the story like any paper would," the defence QC said. Another note, the barrister suggested, showed that Mulciare was not hacking but getting flight details and other background information. A Mulcaire note on DJ Sarah Cox, Laidlaw suggested, only contained information about the car she was driving "and had nothing at all to do with hacking".

    Defence counsel then asked the jury to recall the prosecution's "own goal" when they linked Mulcaire to tracing potential paedophiles as part of Rebekah Brooks' campaign for "Sarah's Law". Laidlaw asked the jury to consider how this contradicted the claim by lead prosecutor Andrew Edis QC that Mulcaire only hacked phones. "Where does that point actually take the prosecution?" Laidlaw asked. "We suggest it takes them nowhere," he added. Laidlaw ended his discussion of this topic by saying "thank goodness for the completeness of Mulcaire's notes" as they show "phone hacking was a very rare event and not something she [Brooks] must have known about".

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned the defence barrister asked them to note that there was "no direct evidence that Mrs Brooks knew about Glen Mulciare or his company". There were, he suggested, no emails or documents and the prosecution case was merely "she must have known". The use of inquiry agents, Laidlaw said, was widespread and common in the newspaper industry and "even if she had seen the contract nothing about it would have caused any concern, it would not have suggested phone hacking was going on".

    The court was then shown the contract with Mulcaire's company, "9 consultancy", which describes the services to be given as "research and information", and asked the jury to note that the agreement did not have Brooks' signature on it. The defence barrister also presented an email to the jury where the former editor tells departmental heads they were responsible for looking after their own budgets. "You may divide the money as you see fit cutting your cake in different ways," the document stated.

    Laidlaw then turned to the prosecution suggestion that the News of the World "cooked the books" to hide the Mulcaire payments. "It's the kind of pithy phrase Mr Edis [prosecution barrister] enjoys deploying," defence counsel said. Laidlaw reminded the court that Brooks had testified that she should have been told about the contract even though it was broken up into weekly payments. "This is something of a red herring," the QC said. Laidlaw told the court that in 2002 there was a "genuine lack of clarity" about contracts at the News of the World and there appeared to be no written policy on contracts. "There was a degree of misunderstanding or slackness in the application of the rules," he added.

    Court then rose for lunch.

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