Media

Phone-hacking trial: Milly Dowler hack 'central to the case', jury told

By James Doleman |

June 4, 2014 | 9 min read

  • Milly Dowler "hacking notes" had her parents' telephone numbers
  • Mulcaire "do both mobiles" note compared with Coulson "do his phone" email
  • Staff hacked each other at "competitive" News of the World
  • Coulson did not know phone-hacking a crime
  • Milly Dowler hack "central to the case", jury told
  • Proceedings resumed this afternoon with Judge John Saunders continuing his review of the evidence given over the seven months of the phone-hacking trial. He continued where he left off this morning with count one on the indictment, a charge of conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemails between 2002 and 2006 against former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson and the paper's then managing editor Stuart Kuttner.

    Schoolgirl: Milly Dowler

    The judge began by analysing the notes recovered by police at the home of convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire. There were 5,600 of these, he told the jury; 2,200 had the name of a News of the World news editor written on the top left corner and 600 were dated from Rebekah Brooks' time as editor although, Saunders told the jury, around 50 of these were duplicates and three had been dated in error. Saunders told the jury that there was a dispute between the defence and the prosecution over how many of these taskings related to phone-hacking rather than other activities that Mulcaire may have been involved in, such as "blagging" or tracing addresses. Saunders then went through 12 entries in the notes which contained the information needed to intercept a voicemail including one relating to murdered teenager Milly Dowler which contained the phone numbers of her parents.

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    The judge noted that on one of the notes Mulcaire wrote "do both mobiles" and suggested the jury might consider that in relation to an email sent later by Andy Coulson stating "do his phone" which, he suggested, might show the phrase "meant something to people" before adding that this was for the jury to decide. Saunders reminded the jury that there was no dispute that voicemail interception happened after Coulson took over as News of the World editor in January 2003, the question they had to answer was whether the hacking happened with his agreement. The judge also invited the jury to recall that both Coulson and Brooks had their phones hacked by Mulcaire. Saunders reminded the jury of the testimony of Clive Goodman, who told the court the News of the World was such a competitive environment that people hacked each other to gain an advantage.

    Saunders then asked the jury to consider why Mulcaire was unique among News of the World investigators in being paid by contract rather than by results. He reminded them of the prosecution argument that phone-hacking took a lot of work and did not always produce results. "Think of the messages you get on your phone," he said to the jury. The judge invited the jury to recall that both Brooks and Coulson had denied any knowledge of the Mulcaire contract other than knowing it was for "investigative services". Coulson had also said he had a recollection of being told the aim of the contract was to save money.

    The judge then had the jury again look at evidence relating to a News International lawyer, who we cannot name for legal reasons. His involvement, Saunders said, may suggest to the jury that the news desk reporters "were not working alone" although, he added, the defence disagreed with that implication and it would be up to the jury members to decide between the competing arguments. The judge also invited the jury to consider an email in which a senior journalist asked for the Mulcaire payments to stop but they never did. He was "overruled", the judge suggested, and he reminded the jury that "the prosecution say that could not have been decided without a discussion about what Mulcaire was doing". Saunders then invited the jury to recall the defence position that Mulcaire's contract was only £100,000 out of an editorial budget of £33m and all of the defendants had denied knowing about the contract. "You'll have to work it out for yourselves," the judge told the jury.

    Saunders then turned to the evidence the court has heard about how the News of the World operated. The "backbench" was responsible for the layout of the paper while the "middle bench" rewrote stories in the style of the paper. There was also a "secret room" where exclusive stories were discussed and lawyers would check stories for possible libel or privacy issues. "Judges are available 24 hours a day" to deal with injunctions, Saunders said, which meant the paper also had to have barristers on stand-by to deal with these. The judge said one thing he had learned at this trial was that important stories were usually placed on the right hand pages of newspapers "Interesting information," he called it, as was the practice of putting out a "spoof edition" to stop rivals stealing stories.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned, Judge Saunders returned to the issue of who knew about Glenn Mulcaire's activities at the News of the World. He noted that witnesses from the accounts department knew of the phone-hacker's existence but not what he did. Other former staff told the court they had never heard his name. The jury was reminded about a 2002 story written by sports reporter Geoff Sweet about Wimbledon FC that mentioned Mulcaire, who played for the club, also worked for the News of the World in the "investigations team". The jury, Saunders said, would have to consider that evidence when looking at this question and he invited them to consider that those working on the Milly Dowler story may also have been aware that the paper had possession of one of her voicemails although perhaps did not know how they were obtained.

    Saunders asked the jury to recall the evidence of Rebekah Brooks that she had no knowledge of Mulcaire's activities and always abided by the editor's code. At that point there was an issue with the judge's computer and the jury were asked to leave the room while this was resolved. When the jury returned, Saunders apologised for the "troublesome mouse" and continued to review Brooks' testimony on her knowledge of phone-hacking during her time at the News of the World. The jury were reminded that Brooks had said in the witness box that journalists kept their sources secret and she would generally not ask who they were. On budgets, the court was asked to recall, Brooks testified she did not "micro-manage" these and it was up to the heads of department to spend their budgets how they wished.

    The judge asked the jury to consider Andy Coulson's evidence that he also generally did not ask for the names of journalistic sources, although this might depend on the experience of the reporter concerned. The former editor, the jury was reminded, had testified he had no knowledge of phone-hacking at his newspaper until hearing a voicemail from then home secretary David Blunkett in 2004, a matter, Judge Saunders said, he would return to later. The jury were also asked to recall that Coulson said he did not know phone-hacking was a crime until 2006.

    Saunders then turned to evidence he said was "central to the case": the 2002 hack of the voicemail of then missing teenager Milly Dowler. "You will have to give it close attention," he told the jury. He reminded the court that Brooks had testified she was on holiday in Dubai at the time and that her then deputy, Andy Coulson, could not recall the story but if he had seen it he would have assumed the voicemail quotes came from the police. The judge said that when Dowler disappeared, investigating officers put credit on her phone balance and obtained a court order to download her voicemails.

    On 26 March, the court was told, a voicemail message was left by mistake on Dowler's phone from an employment agency offering her a job interview. "The prosecution agree it was pretty unbelievable," he said, "but someone at the News of the World believed it." Saunders added that they sent five reporters to Telford to follow up the story. All parties agree, the judge said, that if the paper had found Dowler it would have been a "big story".

    Court then adjourned 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 straight from the Old Bailey

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