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Phone-hacking trial: Case against Rebekah Brooks a "pantomime" defence say

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

  • Eimar Cook's testimony a "lie"
  • Prosecution "chasing thin air", defence claim
  • Closing address "throwing mud at the Sun", Laidlaw tells jury
  • Brooks trusted reporter who was "one of the best on Fleet St of all time"
  • Charlie Brooks hid porn to avoid "Jacqui Smith moment"
  • Prosecution case a "pantomime", defence counsel says
  • Proceedings resume this morning to hear further closing argument from Jonathan Laidlaw QC representing Rebekah Brooks. The defence barrister began by reminding the jury about the evidence of Eimar Cook, who testified that she had discussed phone hacking with Brooks at a lunch in London.

    "There are people willing to go to the police and make up allegations," Laidlaw said and added that Cook's testimony showed "she was a liar and the police and prosecution should have known that before she was called as a witness". The defence barrister asked the jury to consider that Cook had said Brooks had lightheartedly joked about her arrest for assaulting actor Ross Kemp, yet this happened a month after the date Cook gave for the lunch. "It was not just a lie but a lie cynically told," he said.

    Laidlaw also asked the jury to consider that if it was not for the work of his team the jury might not have known that Cook was not telling the truth. "This is deeply, deeply worrying," he told the jury. "We do not know why she lied," the barrister said, but suggested it may have been linked with her civil action over her phone being hacked. "We may never know why she has lied, but the fact is she did lie to you," he said. "The prosecution feel desperate enough on count one for Rebekah Brooks to field a witness like that," he added, saying the prosecution were "chasing thin air".

    Laidlaw then asked the jury to consider the fact there was no evidence of phone hacking at the Sun while Brooks was editor. "Is this a coincidence?" he asked, adding that lead prosecutor Andrew Edis "is thinking a little bit too much like a lawyer and not like a human being". He told the jury when it came to phone hacking the verdict of not guilty was "the right verdict and the verdict that Mrs Brooks deserves".

    The defence QC then moved on to count five on the indictment, a charge that Brooks approved payments to a Ministry of Defence official for information on military matters. Laidlaw said that this count had been brought in front of the jury "on a false basis". Laidlaw added: "Mr Edis could not have been more wrong". Laidlaw told the jury Edis was "no doubt unintentionally misleading you" when he said the stories, sourced via the MOD official "would have came out anyway". "The Ministry of Defence had a policy of protecting the government of the day" the barrister said, and much of the information leaked by the official would not have been disclosed. The QC then challenged the prosecution's argument that news of military casualties were published by the Sun before families were informed. "The evidence does not ring true," he said. "If it did happen the Ministry of Defence would have been down the Sun's throat."

    Laidlaw asked the jury to recall the evidence of prosecution witness brigadier John Donnelly who testified that the death of major Roberts had been reported before the family was told and said his evidence was "false". "Just how bad can things get, that was a brigadier, no doubt a brave soldier in action, a witness you as a jury should be entitled to trust," Laidlsaw said, and brought into evidence documents that he said showed the Sun published the story of Major Roberts' death on the same day that the information was officially released. "It wasn't his fault, but his evidence was wrong, and could have misled you," the QC told the jury. A story that a corporal Budd, later nominated for the Victoria Cross, was killed by Nato issue bullets was also not published by the Sun until after the family had been briefed. Laidlaw said that was something the brigadier would have known "if he had been shown the right documents". "Should the MOD be allowed to investigate these issues behind closed doors?" the barrister asked. "Is it not that kind of secrecy that undermines the public's trust in the military?"

    Laidlaw then asked the jury to consider that "what the army told the world about itself was strictly controlled", saying that the MOD, like any government department, tries to the "keep a lid on things that may cause political embarrassment". "Is that in the public good?" the barrister asked. The defence lawyer then showed the jury a story about an army recruit who suffered brain damage when a drill sergeant threw a baton at him. "Nobody stood up and complained," Laidlaw said. "The story was that he had tripped and banged his head on a washing machine," he added. "Mr Edis told you there was no question of the civil servant being a whistle-blower, do you think he was right?" Laidlaw asked. "Some of the stories may have had you shaking your head in disbelief, not because they were not true but because they were true," he said. "These were important enough for the public to know," the defence barrister said, adding that the civil servant was paid but "she took risks and people may think they should be compensated for that".

    Laidlaw then invited the jury to consider that the closing argument of the prosecutor, Andrew Edis QC, was "misleading", "false" and consisted of "just throwing mud at the Sun". The QC said there was a "rich irony" in Edis ridiculing the Sun as it was the paper read by the army rank and file. "It was the squaddie' paper," he told the jury. Edis, the lead prosecutor, had said that Brooks thought she was above the law. "She is not but deserves a verdict of not guilty because she has not committed a crime," Laidlaw responded.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned Laidlaw turned to the email evidence that Rebekah Brooks sanctioned payments to the civil servant via a journalist who we cannot name for legal reasons. "There is no direct evidence that Mrs Brooks was ever told who the source was or that she was a public official," Laidlaw said, calling the prosecution's case "entirely artificial". The barrister invited the jury to consider that in the emails the journalist only refers to the stories as having come from his "military contact". "A military contact doesn't mean someone inside military," Laidlaw said, and reminded the jury that on other occasions the same phrase was used to describe a journalist with information about prison conditions. Another possibility, the barrister suggested, may have been that the source was a former member of the armed forces.

    Laidlaw asked the jury to consider the number of emails Brooks received, telling them the BlackBerry recovered by police when his client was arrested had around six weeks of emails, over 8000 items. The barrister told the jury that Brooks was not in the office when many of the stories were written and when asked to approve payment "she did not even consider the source was a public official" as the journalist was "experienced and trustworthy, one of the best on Fleet Street of all time" who would have known the rules in place at the Sun. "She would not have been reading between the lines looking for clues, she was not policing this man, not because she didn't care but because she trusted this exceptional reporter," Laidlaw said, adding: "These 11 eleven emails do not prove Mrs Brooks knew the source was public official" because she wouldn't be "alive to the possibility".

    The defence barrister then reminded the jury about count four on the indictment in which Brooks was charged with paying a public official for a picture of Prince William in a bikini. "You know that was not a crime because you have acquitted her of it," Laidlaw said. "This was a social event and it had nothing to do with military secrets," he added, telling the jury: "It was a man in costume at a fancy dress party. It just so happened he was famous, he was a Royal, so picture was of value to the paper." He continued: "Mrs Brooks was entirely justified in the way she treated it." Laidlaw then told the court he was finished with this section of his speech and would move on to charges six and seven, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but before he did he wished to make some final remarks on count five.

    Laidlaw said the the prosecution had argued that his client thought she was "above the law", reminding the jury that Brooks had admitted paying public officials on occassion and stated that she had paid an MI5 officer for a story that Saddam Hussain was smuggling anthrax into the UK in duty free perfume bottles. Judge Saunders then intervened and reminded counsel that the admission was that the person paid was a royal marine, not an MI5 officer, which the defence barrister accepted.

    Brooks' counsel told the court that there had "always been a tension between investigative journalism and the law", giving the example of a Sun reporter who had tested airport security by smuggling a gun onto a aircraft. Laidlaw said it was "inappropriate verging on the unfair" to use Brooks' admission of breaking law for public interest against her.

    Court then rose for a brief break

    When the jury returned the defence QC moved on to count six and seven saying that he would leave much of the detail to the lawyers representing Cheryl Carter, Mark Hanna and Charlie Brooks. He told the court that the prosecution's starting point on allegations that notebooks were missing was that his client was guilty of the other counts so had a motive to hide evidence. "You know the grounds I firmly stand on that she is innocent of these charges," he said, but asked the jury to imagine for a moment that Brooks was guilty and was aware of phone hacking. Would she have "created and left behind evidence of her guilt?" That, counsel suggested, would be "reckless and risky".

    Laidlaw pointed out that when Clive Goodman was arrested in 2006, Dan Evans destroyed any evidence he had hacked phones. "If she had been guilty why didn't she get rid of her notebooks when police raided News International in 2006?" he asked. "The prosecution case doesn't make any sense, but the theory becomes more bizarre as it goes on," he said, pointing out that in 2009 the Guardian had printed an article saying phone hacking was more widespread that first thought. "She would have known the time-bomb was going to go off," Laidlaw told the jury. He added that the prosecution case was that Brooks did not "put her notebooks in the shredder" but instead "instructed her assistants to carefully archive the evidence of her guilt for posterity", which he described as absurd. "It's nothing short of ridiculous." Laidlaw asked the jury to recall the prosecution's argument that to believe Brooks was not guilty "you would have to think she was a complete idiot" and suggested that, on the contrary, to find her guilty of this charge you would have to think that was correct.

    Defence counsel told the court that Mrs Brooks did not routinely use notebooks. Stuart Kuttner did "but he was off a different generation," Laidlaw said. "How many times can the prosecution make the same errors of logic?" counsel asked. "The prosecutions propensity to write fiction grows worse as we get to count seven," he went on.

    Laidlaw told the court that the items hidden from the police on the day of Rebekah Brooks' arrest all belonged to her husband Charlie. "The prosecution has lost its way and lost its grip on the reality of how people behave," he said. The barrister suggested that Charlie had hid his pornography as its nature, "lesbian psychodramas", could have been the basis of "damaging headlines for his wife", a "Jacqui Smith" moment as the barrister put it. The prosecution case, Laidlaw said, "is less of a novel and more of a pantomime", before asking the jury if they could really believe Brooks' mother, husband, secretary and head of security would all lie on her behalf. "It is a fantastical case," the barrister said.

    Court then rose for lunch