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Hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks cleared of one charge over Prince William bikini photo

Former News of the World editor still faces four other counts as she begins giving evidence at Old Bailey

The former News of the World and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks has been found not guilty of one of the five charges she faced in the phone-hacking trial at the Old Bailey.

Giving evidence for the first time today, Ms Brooks was earlier formally cleared of one count of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, after a judge found there was “no case to answer” in relation to a photo of Prince William wearing a fancy dress bikini.

It had been alleged that she had sanctioned a payment of £4,000 to a public official to acquire the picture, which showed the prince dressed as a Bond girl during a party at Sandhurst.

While the picture was never published, it was reportedly the basis of an exclusive story in The Sun in September 2006, while Ms Brooks was editor, which ran under the headline “Willy in a Bikini” and was accompanied by a mocked-up image of Prince William in a green swimsuit.

Judge Mr Justice Saunders instructed the jury at the Old Bailey to formally acquit Brooks, saying: “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.”

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC had previously told the court that Ms Brooks received an email asking her to approve payment to a Sun journalist’s contact who was “offering us a picture of William at a James Bond party dressed as a Bond girl”.

Jurors at the phone-hacking trial will still decide whether Ms Brooks, 45, is guilty of four further offences - one count of conspiring to hack phones, two of perverting the course of justice, and one of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.

At the start of Ms Brooks’ defence case today, her lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC said jurors might have found the trial hard to follow so far.

He told the court that “on occasions absolutely critical information was overlooked or left out” by the prosecution, and said Ms Brooks was not on trial “because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper” or “for any political views she may hold”.

Taking the stand herself, Ms Brooks gave an account of her career as a journalist, rising through the ranks from sweeping the floor to becoming editor.

Asked about major stories over her career, she told the court how the newspaper paid around £50,000 to £80,000 to footballer Paul Gascoigne for a  story about domestic violence.

“It was the fact that I got Paul to talk to me about such a sensitive subject,” she said. “It set out the ground work for me doing that time and time again with other high-profile people who were having difficult circumstances.”

Speaking about another major story, Ms Brooks described the lengths the News of the World went to in preventing prostitute Divine Brown talking to other newspapers about her relationship with Hugh Grant.

“It all seems so silly now but actually it was really important,” she said.

Ms Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, denies all charges against her in the phone hacking trial.

The case continues.