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Phone-hacking trial: Prosecution of Rebekah Brooks likened to "medieval witch-hunt"

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 and family arrive at court

  • Brooks QC completes his closing arguments
  • Prosecution argument "twisted and distorted"
  • Investigation into Brooks compared to "medieval witch trial"
  • Case against Brooks has "fallen woefully short", jury told
  • Court returned from lunch just after 2pm to hear the conclusion of Jonathan Laidlaw QC's closing address to the jury on behalf of his client, former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks. The barrister showed the jury a laptop which belonged to Rebekah Brooks. "What did the prosecution say about this computer in its closing address?" Laidlaw asked. "Nothing," he said, calling its case was "twisted and distorted" and inviting the court to consider that if Brooks were guilty this laptop was a "high risk item" yet had not been hidden from the police when they searched the couple's property. "He [Charlie Brooks] was hiding his own items, it may well have been stupid but is not incomprehensible."

    The defence barrister told the jury that in an attempt to "salvage something from the wreckage of their case" the prosecution had raised the question of "missing devices." Laidlaw said the prosecution list of these computers "was not worth the paper it was written on" as News International records of which electronic devices were used by which people were unreliable. It was not until 2011 that the company employed an asset management system, the jury was told. Laidlaw showed the court an email, brought into evidence by the prosecution, about replacing one of Rebekah Brooks' iPads. "What could Mr Edis possibly find suspicious about this?" the defence barrister asked, adding: "What data could be on this in 2011 about phone hacking in 2003?" Laidlaw also noted that Brooks only ever used one News International email address so they her mailbox would be stored in the one place whatever device they were written on.

    Laidlaw showed the jury the list of "missing devices" and noted that there were once 10 items on the list but there were now only six. "Perhaps if we waited another six months there would be none," he suggested. He invited the jury to consider why the Crown was relying on a screenshot of which computers were connected to the router at the Brooks' home rather than examining the router itself. "It was present during both police searches," he told the court.

    The barrister then went through the list of "missing devices" produced by the prosecution in detail, noting a number of them had been recovered or identified. One of these, "Julie's iPad", had since been discovered and the prosecution have suggested that is was suspicious that was not found by police when they searched the Brooks' home. Laidlaw said that this device had probably been given back to News International then returned to Brooks when her new office opened. The fact that there was no record of this iPad anywhere, Laidlaw suggested, showed again the incomplete nature of News International's records. The defence QC also noted that his client had taken her "favourite device", a BlackBerry, with her when she was arrested and this was seized by police. It contained "private messages from her family and former prime ministers, which could have caused embarrassment". The barrister said: "She was not hiding anything."

    Laidlaw then turned to allegations against Brooks of being part of a "corporate cover up" after News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman was arrested in 2006. "She was frank in her testimony to you," the barrister said, "and agreed to offer Goodman a job to stop false allegations being made against Andy Coulson as part of an employment dispute". Laidlaw asked the jury to note that Brooks was one of the most frequent victims of Glenn Mulcaire's phone hacking and police were at one point keen to use her as a prosecution witness. The QC asked the jury to note that in 2006 Brooks was editor of the Sun and had no executive position at News International, "she was not involved in any internal investigations into hacking," the jury was told.

    The barrister did agree that Brooks. behaviour in not ordering an investigation in to hacking when she became News International CEO "may not be very attractive but she will not be the last CEO to do things to protect the company to which she had a duty to". However, Laidlaw said, there was no possibility that Brooks settled with Max Clifford to protect herself as there was no suggestion she had been involved adding that his client's response to the phone hacking scandal "may not reflect well on her but it does not constitute a criminal offence".

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned Laidlaw concluded his closing argument with what he called some general remarks. He accused the prosecution of "writing stories" about the defendants and their witnesses. His client, the barrister said, had been at the "centre of a storm" after the allegations over Milly Dowler had emerged which happened at the same time as a "heady brew" of criticism of the police and politicians over their response to phone hacking was going on. The QC asked the jury to recall the prosecution's speech and asked the jury to think about the "defining feature of a witch trial was that the accused could never win, the allegation itself was what killed her". The barrister said that the prosecution had taken every piece of evidence against his client. "If she comes across as a likeable person she is putting on an act, if her evidence is convincing it is a carefully constructed script." This was an allegation of "cynical perjury", the barrister said, and could have been directed at him which is an allegation of professional misconduct, he added.

    Laidlaw asked the jury to consider if there was anything his client could have said that would convince the prosecution that she might be innocent. The barrister reminded the court that Brooks had spent 14 days in the witness box and they had heard from her personal assistants, her husband and her former lover. "You have probably seen deeper into Rebekah Brooks' life than anyone else you have ever encountered." "If this was a mask," he went on "then she really is a witch as no human being could have kept up that pretence". Brooks' life, Laidlaw said, "had shades of grey" and she had admitted her mistakes. The prosecutor, the QC said, "had a long list of adjectives" for Brooks, "but I am not going to follow his lead" he added. "She is a controversial figure and many people hate her" yet, the barrister said, "not a single former disgruntled employee, including Clive Goodman, has alleged she was involved in phone hacking."

    The barrister went on that the investigation into phone hacking had an "unhealthy focus on Rebekah Brooks". He continued: "We ask for no special treatment. We ask you to look at the evidence and realise the prosecution has fallen short, woefully short."

    Court then adjourned for the day.