Hacking trial: Court eyewitness – on stage it was brutal, backstage it was convivial

The Old Bailey has a rhythm, and the hacking trial matched its beat

In the classic 1950s cartoons featuring Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, the two adversaries meet every morning at a meadow. They exchange casual chit-chat, punch separate timecards on the same machine, then spend the rest of the day in brutal combat before clocking out in the late afternoon, nodding politely that they’ll see each other tomorrow. The hacking trial was strangely similar.

Each day began with the clocking on at the Old Bailey.  In the winter months of a trial that spanned three seasons, Rebekah and Charlie Brooks arrived by taxi. By the early summer they chose to walk in, clutching Starbucks coffees.

Andy Coulson – sometimes with his wife Eloise – marched grimly up Limeburner Lane passing snappers he had once marshalled like a general.

The Bailey has a rhythm, and the hacking trial matched its beat. It should be a place of built-in fear and panic. Strangely it isn’t. Inside the courtroom, manners provided a surface of calm.

Whether it was Starbucks, Café Nero or Costa, an expensive coffee aided the daily appearance of normality, of casual confidence, for everyone. If the hacking trial had a common currency, it was a hot cardboard cup. Mr Justice Saunders allowed the defendants in the glass-walled dock to bring their coffees with them. The privilege wasn’t extended to the rest of the court.

In the intervals between sessions, defendants congregated with their counsel and solicitors in the demilitarised hall space outside Court 12. The mood on all sides was always optimistic. Barristers smiled and nodded. Rebekah Brooks, with legendary charm, charmed.

Andy Coulson always looked serious. He looked serious arriving; he looked serious leaving. His lawyers looked serious.

Now after eight months, after the judgment, what’s left? The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu advised that in warfare “the secret lies in confusing the enemy”. That’s what everyone did for eight months – tried to look normal, with their coffees.

Even justice needs something to hold on to.

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