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Phone-hacking trial: Prosecution of Rebekah Brooks 'desperate', 'reckless' and 'outrageous', 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

  • Brooks "not guilty" of Dowler hack
  • Prosecution "desperate", "reckless" and "outrageous", defence barrister suggests
  • Brooks told friend in 2011 Dowler story a "sexist witch-hunt"
  • "A love letter is not a legal document," Laidlaw tells jury
  • Prosecution evidence "reasoning you might use when gossiping at pub"
  • Court resumed this afternoon to hear further argument from Jonathan Laidlaw QC, who is representing former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks.

    The defence barrister asked the jury if they recalled the evidence of Geoff Sweet, a News of the World sports reporter who testified that everyone in the office knew phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire worked there. Laidlaw said it was clear that Sweet had given honest evidence but asked the jury to consider that Sweet had met Mulcaire when he played football for AFC Wimbledon and perhaps had remembered that incident rather than hearing his name at the office. The QC also suggested that even if Mulcaire's name had been known it would have been as a private detective rather than phone hacker.

    Laidlaw then moved on to what he called a very important issue, the hacking of the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The defence barrister began by asking if the prosecution could show that Brooks had foreknowledge of the interception of Dowler's voicemail. Counsel told the jury that there was agreement that Mulcaire was tasked by a News of the World journalist to hack Dowler's phone on 10 April 2002. "Mrs Brooks simply could not have been a party to that agreement, it is simply not possible," Laidlaw said, because Brooks was already on holiday in Dubai and records show there was no telephone contact between Brooks and her office until 11 April. "If there is one thing you can be sure about in this case it is that Rebekah Brooks is not guilty of hacking Milly Dowler's phone," Laidlaw said.

    The defence barrister put it to the jury that it was "desperate" of the prosecution to use Brooks' interest in defending children from people who might harm them to prove she would have been "interested" in the Milly Dowler story. "It is completely beside the point," he suggested. The prosecution, Laidlaw said, "are alleging that because Mrs Brooks was campaigning for a change in the law over predatory paedophiles she knew about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, it makes no sense". He added: "If you are not sure she knew of phone hacking prior to going to Dubai, you cannot find her guilty."

    Laidlaw then asked the jury to consider why no one told his client about the Dowler hack after she returned from holiday. "There have been no witnesses I could ask 'why did you not tell her?', Laidlaw said, and suggested there were a "spectrum of possibilities". It could have been, the barrister said, because the story had not been finalised or that they were worried Brooks would share the information with police instantly "given all the commitment she has shown to child victims of crime for her whole career". Brooks would have "told the police, there is a mother to think about." the defence lawyer suggested.

    The defence barrister then asked the jury to look at Brooks' response when the Milly Dowler story broke in the Guardian in July 2011. In one text she says "not sure if it's true, bloody awful if it is" and in another "if this is true it's absolutely sickening". In a text to another friend Brooks said "feels like a sexist witch-hunt at times it's entirely understandable given what people were told at the time". If this was her reaction then, Laidlaw said, what would it have been had people told her at the time?

    Court then rose for a short break.

    The defence barrister then turned to the relationship between Brooks and Andy Coulson which he described as an "affair of a matter of months". Laidlaw told the jury that this was "beside the point" as there was no record of any telephone contact between the two before Milly Dowler's phone was hacked and "no matter how close they were they were not communicating telepathically". Laidlaw suggested that after the break-up of a relationship there is always a tendency to exaggerate what you have lost and see the person as someone you cannot live without. Brooks. letter to Coulson should, he suggested, be seen in that light. "The reality of an extra-marital affair is that there are things both parties keep from each other," the QC added. "A love letter cannot be taken as a legal document, it is not a statement of facts to be analysed," he said.

    Laidlaw then turned to the prosecution case and suggested that the strength of feeling over the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone "cried out for a meticulous examination of the facts". The barrister then reminded the jury of the opening remarks of lead prosecutor Andrew Edis QC in which he said there had been a text exchange between Brooks and Coulson between the first and second editions of the Milly Dowler story. "This was reckless and outrageous," Laidlaw said, adding: "That suggestion should never have been made as when the trial went on the court was told the Dowler story changed between the second and third editions". "This was wrong in every possible detail," the defence barrister told the jury. "This tells you an awful lot about the prosecution in this case," Laidlaw continued, and described the prosecution as "desperate in their pursuit of Mrs Brooks, lacking research and thinking things through".

    The defence then moved on to the interception of the voicemail of Fire Brigade Union leader Andy Gilchrist. Laidlaw told the jury that Glenn Mulcaire was an "outside agent not based at the offices, you cannot conclude this was going on under her nose" and added that no story ever came from the Gilchrist hack so there was no chance that Brooks would have been presented with information that would lead her to suspect hacking was going on. "The prosecution's attempt to mine the Gilchrist story for evidence that Rebekah Brooks knew about hacking was, as I said already, desperate," Laidlaw added. "It is little short of absurd to suggest that there is any evidence here to support their assertion."

    Laidlaw then turned to prosecution evidence over the 2004 hack of the phone of then home secretary David Blunkett. The defence barrister said that the prosecution "made a shallow analysis of the evidence to draw the worst of possible conclusions for Mrs Brooks" and described their method as "using the same sort of reasoning you might use when gossiping in the pub". It was another sign of "the number of knots the prosecution is willing to tie itself in to get Rebekah Brooks," Laidlaw said. Quotes from articles that the prosecution had speculated may have come from hacking had in fact, Laidlaw said, been in the public domain and an affair the former Home Secretary was having was an "open secret".

    The defence barrister then put it to the jury that the prosecution had "perversely ignored" the evidence of an affair between Coulson and Brooks when they presented records of telephone contacts between the two. The texts and calls, Laidlaw said, "were of a highly personal nature and it was not the Blunkett story that was driving Mr Coulson to text her".

    Court then adjourned for the day

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