Rebekah Brooks’ decision as editor of the Sun not to pay for unredacted information on MPs expenses, later published by the Daily Telegraph, exposing the landmark parliamentary scandal, was “an error of judgement that is quite high on my list”, the hacking trial at the Old Bailey has heard.
On her sixth day in the witness box, the former News International chief executive said her news team at the Sun in 2009 had come to her with “sensitive” information on MPs which came with a “high price tag”.
The for-sale data concerned details of MPs fraudulent expenses that had been transferred to a digital disc.
Mrs Brooks told the court that buying the leaked information was “going to cost a lot of money” and was something that she considered carefully.
Her defence counsel, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, said the deliberations over whether or not the Sun should purchase and publish the information, took place in the spring of 2009.
Later that year she left the Sun to become chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s UK print division.
Her procrastination over the MPs’ information took place a month before the Daily Telegraph began publishing the sequence of stories that led to a political scandal that involved sackings, deselections and prison sentences.
Mrs Brooks, answering questions linked to the charges she faces on corrupt payments made to public officials, told the court: “I thought about it [buying the information] for too long. I drove my news teams crazy with my indecision.”
The court heard that following the reaction to the expenses scandal, both the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided there would no prosecution [of the newspaper] because it was judged to have acted in the public interest.
Mrs Brooks described her indecision as “embarrassing”, saying “I should have gone ahead.”
The prosecution case alleges that Mrs Brooks conspired to commit misconduct office by paying sources in cash knowing that they were public officials. She denies the charges against her.
However the court has heard that there were handful of occasions when she did recall authorising payments to public officials when there was “overwhelming” public interest to do so.
The court was told of a call to the Sun newsdesk from a public official saying he knew of a government cover-up that concerned an alleged plot by the former Iraq leader, Saddam Hussein, to smuggle anthrax into Britain.
The paper’s investigations and payment negotiations with the source had, she said, reached Downing Street through security services channels. She was called to Number 10 for a meeting attended by officials from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
Although the Sun’s information was confirmed as being true, she said she had been asked not to publish the story. “We said the public had a right to know that anthrax was coming in,” she told the court. The Sun’s then political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, attended the meeting.
The Sun published and headlined the story as “Saddam anthrax in our duty frees”
Mrs Brooks said she later authorised the payment. Although efforts were made to protect the source’s identity, this, she said, was not successful. He was later identified as a chief petty officer and prosecuted for being in breach of the Official Secrets Act.
The jury was also shown an international News International email which discussed the alleged "cover-up" of the killing at Stockwell underground station in south London of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes. The shooting, involving mistaken identity, took place shortly after the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.
An email showed that one of the Sun's police sources believed the former home secretary Charles Clark was the source of a leak to the News of the World about the cover-up of the killing inside the tube station.
Mrs Brooks, along with six others, is charged with conspiracy to hack phones, bribing public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
She denies all charges against her.
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