The trial of Rebekah Brooks was likened to a “witch hunt” and a “medieval show trial” and her life, during seven months in court at the Old Bailey, had been placed under scrutiny “unprecedented in the history of British justice”.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, counsel for the former chief executive of News International, told the jury in the phone hacking trial that Mrs Brooks’ position was similar to the “ducking” ordeals of witches in the 16th and 17th centuries. “The accused could never win,” he said, adding that it was “the allegation itself” that lead to witches being killed.
Standing only a few feet from the jury, Mr Laidlaw described the “ducking ordeal by water” where witches hands were tied and they were immersed in deep water. “If they floated, they were deemed a witch and guilty; if they sank and drowned they were innocent. Either way, “she was dead,” Mr Laidlaw said.
Although he told the jury “this has been no witch trial”, he qualified the description saying the prosecution’s case had “the approach” of a witch hunt.
Throughout the two days of his closing speech, which examined the evidence against Mrs Brooks, Mr Laidlaw offered highly personal and direct attacks on Andrew Edis QC, the lead prosecution counsel.
After accusing Mr Edis of interpreting every piece of evidence, regardless of what it said, as a sign of Mrs Brooks’ guilt, he said the prosecution had claimed her conduct in court had been “carefully scripted.”
Mrs Brooks, he said, was being accused of engaging in a “cynical type of dishonesty and perjury of the cheapest kind” and said the same charges could be “implicitly directed at me”.
In a calm but charged tone, Mr Laidlaw told the jury that accusations of a scripted performance by Mrs Brooks were also criticisms of his “professional conduct” as a barrister. “I’m not allowed to script a performance,” he said.
He told to jury to wait before they added his name to “the list of people who had been utterly ruined by the conduct of this wicked woman – and asked: ‘what would an innocent Rebekah Brooks have looked like in the witness box?’”
He told the court that nothing she could have said “would have opened the prosecution’s mind" to the possibility that she was not guilty of the charges.
Mrs Brooks, the former editor of both The Sun and the News of the World, is among seven defendants in the trial.
She is charged with being part of a conspiracies to hack phones, corrupt public officials by paying for information, and of perverting the course of justice. She denies all the charges.
Mr Laidlaw said that during the trial, which began in October last year, Mrs Brooks had been “scrutinised from every angle – a scrutiny unprecedented in the history of British justice”.
He added : “You can probably see deeper into Rebekah Brooks’ inner life than anyone else you have ever encountered, even those you feel you know well.”
Again directing his comments to the jury against Mr Edis, he added: “If what you’ve seen is a mask, then Mrs Brooks must be a witch with supernatural powers – no human mask could survive that [the trial] without cracking."
The trial continues.