Hacking trial: Four months in, Rebekah Brooks finally starts to speak for herself
The former ‘News of the World’ editor tells the Old Bailey of her meteoric rise at News International– and strongly denies all allegations against her
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Thursday 20 February 2014
Thirty three months on from her arrest, and after sitting through almost four months of evidence directed against her, the former chief executive of News International heard her lawyer use five words to end a long wait. At 10.34 in court 12 in the Old Bailey , Timothy Laidlaw QC, said “I'll now call Mrs Brooks.”
The jury had just been warned that the trial was only half way through, that there was still a long way to go.
After attacking the prosecution's case as lacking order, being a mess, incomplete, misleading, Mr Laidlaw told the jury that Mrs Brooks was not on trial for being a tabloid editor, nor was she being tried for working for Rupert Murdoch company and its allied policies, influence or corporate views.
He said Mrs Brooks was not being tried for holding political views. “These are agendas being pursued elsewhere - and you must ignore them” the jury were told.
The legal introduction for his client was short. “It is now time for you to see Mrs Brooks as she is, not as she is talked about.”
Wearing a plain dark blue dress, with a small white cardigan, her hair tied loosely off her face, she gave the court her full name - Rebekah Mary Brooks.
Born in Warrington, Cheshire in 1968, making her 45, she described her education as state school primary, state comprehensive. Her father was a gardener, her mother a PA in an engineering company. She helped the family look after her elderly and infirm grandparents. She had a Saturday job.
Where had the idea of journalism come from? Her grandmother wrote poetry and her mother claimed that aged 8 she said she wanted to be a journalist.
The court heard of work experience at aged 14 on the local Warrington Guardian owned by the maverick proprietor Eddie Shah. After school there was time spent in France learning French, then at 18 her first staff job on Shah's new paper, the Post. By now her parents had divorced, she said.
The job meant moving London and working alongside Fleet Street journalists. But by Christmas 1988, the Post had flopped. The silver-lining was journalists who came to the Post returning to their old jobs at the News of the World and “putting in a good word” for her.
Mrs Brooks gives evidence during the trial (PA)
Her voice from the witness box was slow, precise and clear. Throughout the morning she glanced across the court to the people behind the glass-covered dock where her husband Charlie, her former PA, Cheryl Carter, and Andy Coulson, all sat. She occasionally offered a brief smile in their direction.
From office runner to researcher on the NOTW magazine, to a features writer who specialised in interviews, to the magazine's deputy editor, she revealed that when the editor of the magazine, a woman, left for the main paper in 1992 she asked to be taken with her. And she was.
By 1994 she was deputy features editor and involved in buying up celebrity stories and interviews and now in the hunt for her name on the front page.
A year later, when Piers Morgan left the NOTW, she was made deputy editor of the paper itself, a career path described to the court as a “pretty rapid rise”.
Her ability to retain and develop contacts was described to the court. A story of domestic violence involving the former footballer Paul Gascoigne and his wife Cheryl came in a £50-80,000 “relatively high.” Her friendship with Mrs Gascoigne survived despite the coverage.
Another story showcased her editing leadership. The actor Hugh Grant was caught with a prostitute in Los Angeles. The NOTW wanted the story. So did every other tabloid title. Mrs Brooks revealed that she spent $250,000 finding the call girl, Divine Brown, and flying her and her family to a remote luxury retreat in the Nevada desert on a private plane. The exercise bust the weekly spending limit set for each department, but her determination as noticed.
The court heard of the “incredible competitiveness” inside the NOTW between the news and features departments. She admitted to being “unusually young”, a woman, surrounded by news editors in their early 40s, and “a bit of old school misogyny.”
Alex Marunchak and Greg Miskiw were named as two news desk editors. Earlier in the trial's proceedings the jury heard that Miskiw pleaded guilty to hacking-related charges.
Despite the soft features background, as deputy editor she found herself in charge on the week the IRA bombed Canary Wharf in 1996. She said that it was at this time that her contact with Rupert Murdoch was increasing.
She described to the court her first meetings with the “New Labour crew” in 1995. Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, and his partner Fiona Millar. Support from News International followed shortly after she said.
The court heard of Mr Murdoch's weekly Saturday calls to his editors, of his “obsession” with news, of wanting to know “what's going on”. She said the boss of News Corp didn't like his editors indulging in personal publicity, didn't like them “spouting their opinions” on radio or television.
Mrs Brooks' fast-track career path took her to The Sun as deputy editor and then unexpectedly fast to chair of the News of the World in 2000 when it was agreed that Andy Coulson would be good choice as her deputy.
Mr Laidlaw asked her to consider the charges relating to phone hacking which cover the period 2000 to 2003. She told the court she had never heard the name of Glen Mulcaire, nor knew of any of the practices he was later to become associated with. She accepted that private investigators were used by the NOTW, but this was “common practice” across Fleet Street.
Mrs Brooks was asked if she had any knowledge [at that time] of phone hacking? She replied “No, none at all.”
She described her politics to the court as not belonging to a party, but “issue-driven”- “books in schools, welfare reform.”
Taken through the structure of those employed at the NOTW, the court heard that up to 180 staff , plus other freelances and casual workers, made up the workforce. She was young, in charge of a large organisation, and the managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, who had been instrumental in promoting her throughout her fast-tracked career, reminded her when she took charge of the NOTW that “You are my 17th editor, my dear.”
Mr Kuttner is accused of conspiracy to phone hack in the trial. He denies the charges against him.
Her relationship with Miskiw was also examined. She described it as “professional, nothing more” and that he was old school, insular and kept himself to himself.
Miskiw had been briefly in charge of a NOTW investigations unit. Mr Laidlaw said he was reluctant to use a “Harry Potter” term, but the unit was supposed to be the home of the “Dark Arts”. The unit was told of the allegation that it was set up to hack phones. Mrs Brooks replied quickly saying: “Not true”.
Over the 110 editions of the NOTW that Mrs Brooks edited, the court heard that each paper contained 200 stories. The same amount again were read or commissioned and rejected. She said she was never always told where a story came from, or what its sources were. “Only the reporter or the department head may know,” she said, adding “It's impossible for an editor to know every source for every story.”
Mrs Brooks is charges with involvement in conspiracy to phone hack, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She denies all the charges against her.
The case continues.
Prince pictures charge dropped
In one of the first acts of today’s proceedings, the judge overseeing the phone-hacking trial instructed the jury to find Rebekah Brooks not guilty of authorising a £4,000 payment for photographs of Prince William dressed in a bikini in 2006, which were leaked by a royal contact.
Mrs Brooks stood in the dock at the Old Bailey as Mr Justice Saunders instructed the jury foreman to return a verdict clearing the former Sun and News of the World editor of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. The judge said: “I have decided that there is no case for Ms Brooks to answer on count four. That is the charge relating to a picture of Prince William in a bikini. Whether or not there is a case to answer is for me to decide.”
Mrs Brooks stood and smiled as the jury foreman recorded a not guilty verdict. The former News International chief executive faces four further charges, all of which she denies.
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