Hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks challenged over her role in company ‘cover-up’
Prosecution finally gets its chance to interrogate the former News International chief over her testimony
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.
Wednesday 05 March 2014
Rebekah Brooks first entered the witness box in court 12 of the Old Bailey to open her defence in the phone-hacking trial almost two weeks ago. Her testimony has taken the jury through her opening days as an ingenue researcher on the News of the World magazine, through to the “gathering storm” that engulfed her final days as chief executive of News International in 2011.
Today, the prosecution finally got its chance to begin interrogating her evidence.
The opening by the lead prosecution counsel, Andrew Edis QC, was direct and brief. He asked her when, after she had become head of Rupert Murdoch’s UK print division in 2009, she had become aware the company “was covering up the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World?”
The jury heard details of the convictions of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and the NOTW’s former royal editor, Clive Goodman, in 2007.
Mrs Brooks told Mr Edis that she thought, at that time, Goodman and Mulcaire were the only people involved and that the police had completed their investigations.
The prosecution said the police had told her that 100 to 110 victims of hacking had been known about.
Mrs Brooks was asked: “You knew, didn’t you, that the whole truth had not come out at the first trial [of Mulcaire and Goodman]?” She replied: “I don’t think I saw it like that.” Mr Edis went further, saying: “What other way is there to see it?”
Mr Brooks was accused of knowing the initial hacking investigation by Scotland Yard was “superficial” and that despite NI having a “rogue exception” defence of hacking inside the company’s Wapping headquarters, claiming Goodman was just a bad egg, she knew there was more but “carried on the cover-up”.
In the witness box, in a calm tone, she replied “No” and added that she believed NI had behaved honourably throughout.
Andrew Edis, chief prosecution lawyer (Getty)
The court heard that the Goodman-Mulcaire trial was a major news story that would have been covered in detail by The Sun. Mrs Brooks accepted that as editor of The Sun she would have ensured an experienced reporter covered the case and checked the details herself.
The prosecution turned to a note written by NI’s former legal manager, Tom Crone, written after he had been briefed by Mrs Brooks following a 2006 meeting with a detective at Scotland Yard. During the meeting with DCI Keith Surtees she learned that there were between 100 and 110 “potential” hacking victims.
Repeatedly asked if this information had been passed to News International, Mrs Brooks offered no direct answer, and insisted that the police’s concern was to focus on “five to ten” victims that would ensure the maximum sentence for those charged.
Mr Edis said: “You knew that from the time of speaking to DCI Surtees, that the whole truth had not emerged during the trial.”
“I do not think I saw it like that,” Mrs Brooks replied,
The court heard that among the victims, then identified from the police’s investigation of Mulcaire, were former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Tracy Temple, a woman who was said to have an affair with Lord Prescott in 2006. Mrs Brooks had been told her own phone was hacked. The publicist Max Clifford was also a suspected victim.
Mr Edis claimed the meeting with DCI Surtees was effectively an intelligence-gathering operation. “It’s extremely important that you should find out, in the interests of News International, what the police were doing?” he said. She replied: “Yes.”
The court was shown a 2006 email exchange between Mrs Brooks and Andy Coulson, then the editor of the NOTW, which mentioned other potential victims. The words “Jowell, Kimberley, Blunks” were used in the email. Mrs Brooks confirmed that ‘Blunks” was short hand for David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary.
The jury has previously heard evidence relating to Kimberley Quinn, Mr Blunkett, and a story in the NOTW about their affair.
Mrs Brooks was asked if Mr Coulson had ever told her Mr Blunkett’s phone was hacked. She replied: “No”, then later added, “Not at the time.”
With the jury already told of the close and periodically physical relationship between Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson, the prosecution asked her if they had discussed the “list of names” emerging from the police information. “Obviously we were discussing what was going on,” she said.
Mrs Brooks revealed that she was asked to consider becoming a prosecution witness for the 2006 Goodman-Mulcaire trial. Following discussions with Les Hinton, then NI’s chief executive, it was decided this was not the right course. No hacking complaint was lodged by Mrs Brooks, the court was told.
In parts of Mrs Brooks’ defence, she was asked about her knowledge of the voluntary code of ethics drawn up by the newspaper watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and NI’s enforcement of the code.
After she assured Mr Edis that NI made “strenuous efforts to ensure the code was adhered to”, the prosecution asked if her sentence should have included the word “not”.
Mrs Brooks had earlier told the court that she first learned of the practice of hacking in the late 1990s, but had not known it was illegal till much later. She was asked if she had ever given “specific instructions” to journalists at NI “not to hack phones”. She replied: “I didn’t use that phrase.”
In her evidence she was asked if she had done any investigation into hacking after she took the helm of NI in 2009. She said “there wasn’t a need” because the information was “all out there”.
Mr Edis also questioned Mrs Brooks on the £1m three-year deal agreed between News International and publicist Max Clifford in March 2010. The sum, described to the court as a sequence of £200,000 payments, plus legal costs, was alleged by Mr Edis to stop Mr Clifford from advancing a hacking claim against NI that could have resulted in Mulcaire naming those inside the NOTW who had “tasked” him to hack phones.
The jury was told of a fallout between Mr Clifford and NI titles after the paper had written a drugs-related story about one of his clients, the singer Kerry Katona.
Mr Edis put it to Mrs Brooks that Mr Clifford had not actually sued NI and there was no legal obligation to compensate him for loss of earnings during the fallout years.
He asked her: “What he had was a claim for his voicemail being hacked… so this was a £1m gift, wasn’t it?”
The deal, the court was told, was not written down in any formal agreement, and even if Mr Clifford had delivered no stories, the £1m payment would still have been made.
Mrs Brooks: “But we got a lot of stories from it.”
The court was told that deal had the “desired effect” that Mulcaire did not reveal who tasked him to hack phones.
She told Mr Edis: “Glenn Mulcaire was, by anybody’s standards, an unreliable witness and not knowing what he would say and the damage that would cause with the ever increasing civil liability exposure. We were protecting the company by settling with Mr Clifford.”
Mr Brooks has denied a charge that she conspired to hack phones and three other linked charges. Six others in the trial, including Mr Coulson and Mr Goodman, deny the charges against them.
The trial continues.
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