Hacking trial: I approved ‘half a dozen’ payments to officials, Rebekah Brooks tells court

Jury told of 11 emails from a senior Sun journalist requesting payments to an 'ace military contact'

Rebekah Brooks authorised payments to public officials during the period she edited the News of the World and The Sun. However she claimed money was paid out by News International in only a “handful” of cases where there was “overwhelming public interest,” the Old Bailey has heard.

The qualified admission was given by the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK print division on the fifth day of her defence at the phone hacking trial.

Mrs Brooks said she had authorised the payments between 1998 and 2009.

Responding to questions on the payments from her defence counsel, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, she said: “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payment in those very narrow circumstances to a public official being paid for information directly in line with their job.”

She said this had occurred on “half a dozen” occasions, and that if a judgement had been made that there was no public interest defence, then payment was rejected because “it was considered to be illegal.”

Mrs Brooks was also questioned about the sums paid to an MoD press officer, Bettina Jordan-Barber.

Mrs Brooks told the court that  [at the time of the allegation] she had never heard of Bettina Jordan-Barber. She also said that public officials, including politicians, senior police officers, and military officials, passed information to NI titles without any request for money.

This was described to the court as a normal practice.

Mr Laidlaw was questioning Mrs Brooks in relation to one of four charges she is facing. This relates to corrupt payments given to public officials for information later published. She denies all the charges against her.

The former NI executive was asked about a sequence of specific payments to Ms Jordan-Barber, along with an email sent to her by a Sun journalist in November 2006.

Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks arrive at court Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks arrive at court (PA)
The email read: “Morning boss, I wondered if you would please authorise the following payments for my number one military contact?”

The court heard that the sum amounted to £4,500. Mrs Brooks emailed back within a minute with the response: “Of course”.

The jury has been told of 11 emails from a senior Sun journalist requesting payments to an “ace military contact” or for “my number one military contact.”

The court has earlier been told that Ms Jordan-Barber worked at the Army secretariat in Hampshire and had access to sensitive military information that formed part of briefings often given to government ministers.

Mrs Brooks  told the court she would not have had any reason to doubt the reporter, and added “I'm not reading this email as we are now, looking for something wrong.”

In evidence heard at the trial last December, Ms Jordan Barber collected cash from Sun through a travel agency in Surrey. As part of agreed facts between prosecution and defence teams, the former MoD official was paid £100,000 by The Sun.

Mrs Brooks authorised 11 payments to Jordan-Barber totalling £38,000.

Asked by Mr Laidlaw if the Sun reporter should have identified his source, and revealed that she was a public official, Mr Brooks said: “He probably should have, absolutely.” However she told the court that “Most reporters keep their sources pretty close to their chests.”

She said the MoD had never complained about stories [published in the NI titles she edited] or asked where information was coming from.

The former prime minister Gordon Brown had however complained to The Sun over stories that centred on the treatment of British troops.

Mrs Brooks is among seven defendants facing  phone hacking, bribery and perverting the course of justice charges. All deny the charges against them.

The case continues.

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