Phone-hacking trial: Judge asks jurors to consider News International 'damage limitation' or 'cover-up'?'

By James Doleman |

June 10, 2014 | 7 min read

  • Judge summing up continues
  • Court hears about News International "cover-up" over phone hacking
  • Irony of "hard-hitting investigative newspaper" hiding its own misconduct
  • Role of company lawyers questioned
  • Coulson decided not to tell police about Blunkett voicemails
  • Was Brooks "covering up the cover-up", judge asks
  • Proceedings resumed this morning with the presiding judge, Mr Justice Saunders, continuing his final summary of evidence to the jury. Having completed his summing up of count one, the charge of conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemail communications, Saunders moved on to the prosecution claim that there was a "cover up" by News International of the full extent of phone hacking. The judge suggested that "one of the ironies of the case is that a hard-hitting investigative newspaper tried to hide its own wrongdoing from the public", although he noted that the defence contended that the corporation was only trying to stop what it thought were "lies" being aired in the media.

    Saunders asked the jury to consider that it was the police and the Crown Prosecution Service which decided to limit the charges faced by Clive Goodman in 2006, although part of the reason was no doubt "skilful negotiations by his lawyers". The judge reminded the court that there had been a great deal of discussion in the case about the role of Goodman's solicitor Henry Brandman, who was employed by News International. The defence, Saunders noted, claimed Brandman was more interested in protecting the company than looking after the interests of his client, saying "there's nothing wrong with News International paying for Goodman's lawyers, but they owed their duty to him not them". The judge then went through the legal advice Goodman was given which was, he said, only possible as the former royal editor had waived his legal privilege.

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    The judge reminded the jury that Goodman's testimony was that both Brandman and his barrister John Kelsey-Fry QC were aware that he was alleging others were involved in phone hacking both advised him not to mention to the judge as this might suggest he was trying to avoid taking responsibility. Saunders told the jury that they would have to decide "for what reasons was that advice being given" and they should take that into account in their deliberations. The judge also asked them to consider the role of a News International lawyer, who we cannot name for legal reasons, in Goodman's case. He noted that the former royal editor had said he was more frightened by the News International lawyer than the prosecution case but that the defence had said it was perfectly proper for a company lawyer to be looking after the best interests of his employers. That too, Saunders said, was a matter for the jury to decide.

    The judge asked the jury to recall the testimony of Andy Coulson that when Goodman was arrested in 2006 for phone hacking he had not told the police he knew that another journalist, Neville Thurlbeck, had hacked a message from David Blunkett in 2004. Coulson had told the court he had not done so as he was worried about the "potential impact on him and on the newspaper". Saunders noted that at least two other senior employees at the paper knew about the Blunkett hack and also had not told the police. The judge said the prosecution position was that it was "ridiculous" to believe that all three independently reached that decision. "How could they have not talked about it," he said the prosecution had argued. The defence said, Saunders reminded the jury, that if there was an agreement the incriminating evidence on the Blunkett hack would have been destroyed which it was not. Why it was not, the judge told the jury, would be another matter for them to decide.

    Court then took a short break.

    When the jury returned Mr Justice Saunders had the jury look at notes of a meeting Rebekah Brooks had with the police in 2006 after Clive Goodman was arrested. The notes, Saunders said, showed that Brooks had been informed that the police investigation would be "limited" to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and she had passed that information on to Andy Coulson and other senior News International staff. "Senior personnel including Rupert Murdoch knew this meeting was taking place," the judge said.

    The jury was then read an email exchange between Brooks and Coulson on the day Clive Goodman pleaded guilty to phone hacking. In the emails, Brooks suggests leaking the fact that Brooks' phone was also hacked by Glenn Mulcaire to which Coulson disagreed as "things are going so well". Saunders noted that the prosecution say that this shows that the then editor was pleased that Clive Goodman had named no one else while the defence say this is merely a reference to the media coverage of the guilty plea.

    The judge then turned to Rebekah Brooks' actions in offering Clive Goodman a job after he had been released from prison. He asked the jury to consider the prosecution argument that this was a further attempt to stop Goodman naming other people in connection with hacking while the defence say this was "damage limitation," and added that the jury may think this was "not one of the most successful damage limitation exercises ever undertaken". Saunders also noted that Brooks agreed a financial settlement with publicist Max Clifford, which the judge said, was clearly to stop hacker Glenn Mulcaire being forced by a court to name who he dealt with at the News of the World. He asked the jury to consider that Brooks had not mentioned the aim of the settlement in her statements to police and that they should consider if she had just forgotten, or if Brooks was "covering up the cover up".

    The judge then moved onto how, in his words, News International's strategy began to "unravel" beginning with a 2010 article in the New York Times and emails, discovered during a civil action by actress Sienna Miller, which implicated journalists other than Clive Goodman in phone hacking and led to the arrest of various employees of the newspaper. In July 2011, Saunders continued, the Guardian broke the Milly Dowler story and the issue was raised in parliament. The public outcry that followed the Milly revelations led to the decision being taken to close the News of the World and, after a suitable gap, launch the Sunday Sun Saunders reminded the jury. "It was clearly a pretty desperate situation," he added.

    Court then rose for lunch.


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