The jury that will decide the guilt or innocence of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and six other defendants was sworn in at the Old Bailey with a warning from the judge that “British justice is on trial”.
The nine women and three men will begin hearing the prosecution’s opening address from 2pm Wednesday in a case expected to last until Easter.
They were chosen after a list of 80 potential jurors was whittled down to a dozen deemed capable of hearing the phone-hacking-related case without bias or prejudice.
Mr Justice Saunders told the jury that it was “absolutely vital” that they decide the outcome of the trial only on the evidence heard in court.
During his warning he held up a copy of this month’s Private Eye magazine, which showed a picture of Ms Brooks under the headline “Halloween Special” and a sub-heading that said, “Horror witch costume withdrawn from shops”. Mr Justice Saunders, commenting on the previous publicity surrounding the case, said: “Unfortunately Private Eye has seen fit today to put out [its] November edition.
“You will undoubtedly see it on the news-stands, so I can show it to you. It bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover. It’s meant to be satire.”
He directed the jury to ignore it, saying it had “no serious input” and was “not relevant” to the deliberations. Although describing the magazine’s cover as a joke, he said that “a joke in the circumstances of today is a joke in especially bad taste”.
The cover was brought to the attention of the Attorney General for England and Wales, Dominic Grieve, who has the power to take action if criminal trials are prejudiced by published material, decided not to bring proceedings for contempt of court. But earlier in the day officials from the Crown Prosecution Service, later followed by officers from the City of London Police, visited a news-stand near the Old Bailey which routinely sells early copies of Private Eye. The officials made a request to the stand’s owner, Tony McCarthy, that he remove all the magazines and take down press hoardings advertising the November issue but he refused to comply.
Speaking to The Independent he said: “The CPS arrived just after 11am [and] the City cops came just after 1pm. They asked me to take the Private Eyes down [but] I said ‘No’. I told them the whole point of a controversial cover is that it sells papers. That’s how I make my living.”
Mr McCarthy, whose family have run the stall outside Farringdon Road tube and rail station since 1952, said: “The woman from the City Police looked embarrassed asking me to take them down. Look, everyone knows the Eye sails close to the wind, and though the press need a code of practice, we don’t need them shackled, do we?”
The hacking trial is expected to be one of the lengthiest ever heard at the Central Criminal Court. The jury between now and April will hear the full details of seven counts related to an alleged conspiracy illegally to access mobile phone messages, an alleged conspiracy to pervert the court course of justice by concealing evidence, and allegations of corrupt payments to public officials.
Ms Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s UK print division, News International, and Mr Coulson, 45, of Preston, Kent, the former Downing Street director of communications and a ex-editor of the now defunct News of the World, are the two high-profile defendants in the hacking trial.
The other six defendants include Ms Brooks’ husband Charlie; Stuart Kuttner, the former managing editor of the NOTW; Ian Edmondson, the paper’s former news editor; Cheryl Carter, Ms Brooks’ former assistant; and Mark Hanna, the former News International security officer. All have pleaded not guilty to the charges made against them.
The case and the decision by the CPS to bring prosecutions against the defendants is the culmination of more than two years’ work by the Metropolitan Police’s specialist units, which have been investigating phone hacking inside Mr Murdoch’s UK newspapers .
Mr Justice Saunders acknowledged the global attention that the trial is likely to receive by warning the jury that the directions he was issuing “could not be more important than they are in this particular case. In this case, in a way, not only are the defendants on trial, but British justice is on trial.”
More than 70 journalists from four continents are covering the trial at the Old Bailey, with a special overspill annexe showing televised pictures from court 12, where the case is being heard. The jurors – who will return today for the crown’s opening, delivered by the prosecution’s chief counsel, Andrew Edis QC – were warned by Mr Justice Saunders not to discuss the case with anyone, not to use social media such as Twitter or Facebook, and not to access information about the case through search engines such as Google.
His warnings included a threat that previous jurors who had broken similar rules had been jailed for contempt of court and sent to prison.