Hacking trial: ‘Set up a Hutton-style inquiry’, Tony Blair told Rebekah Brooks as scandal broke
Former PM offered to become unofficial adviser to the Murdochs, jury told at hacking trial
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 19 February 2014
Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks to launch a “Hutton-style” inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World as the issue erupted into a criminal and political scandal in 2011, a jury has heard.
The former prime minister is alleged to have offered to become a secret "unofficial adviser" to Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Mrs Brooks, according to an email revealed at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.
He is said to have told Mrs Brooks during an hour-long phone conversation when she was still chief executive of News International that an "independent unit" made up of lawyers and "a great and good type" should investigate her and publish a "Hutton-style report".
The 2003 inquiry chaired by Lord Hutton was set up by the Blair government to investigate the death of the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kelly.
Mr Blair suggested that the former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, be invited to investigate, according to the email.
Mrs Brooks claimed Mr Blair also advised that the first part of the inquiry should be published "at the same time" as the police investigation into phone hacking concluded and would "clear you" - while the second should be released "when any trials are over".
The court heard that the former prime minister, now head of an international political consultancy firm, told Mrs Brooks that her difficulties "will pass".
Mrs Brooks' account of Mr Blair's advice was sent to James Murdoch on July 11, 2011, a week after it emerged that the News of the World had hacked the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. At the time, he was head of News Corp in the UK and Europe. Rupert Murdoch had already announced the closure of the NoW amid continuing political pressure that his company's involvement in illegal practices should be investigated through a judicial inquiry. Mrs Brooks was arrested six days later.
The content of the Brooks-Murdoch email was read out to the jury in the hacking trial as the prosecution closed its case after presenting three months of evidence. Tony Blair with Rebekah Brooks in 2004
Mrs Brooks will open her defence on Thursday. She is charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept phone messages, bribing public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She denies all the charges against her.
As part of the crown's opening last November, the court heard Mrs Brooks had sent James Murdoch an email on 8 July, the day after the NoW closure was announced.
Under the subject heading "Plan B", she suggested that the "result of [the] report when published" would "slam Les. Colin etc and it will vindicate my position (or not)." Les Hinton is a former executive at News Corp, while Colin Myler was the NoW's last editor.
In the email, the court heard Mrs Brooks suggested to Mr Murdoch that he "leaked" an internal statement which admitted NI was wrong to accept the conclusion of Scotland Yard's hacking investigation in 2007 and that "we failed to hold the right people accountable".
Mrs Brooks suggested that the law firm Olswang should internally review previous investigations and probe the new allegations. She wrote: "NI will publish the findings of this report and where there were serious failings or errors of judgement those culpable would be held accountable and leave the company."
She then asked Mr Murdoch: "What do you think?"
Although describing herself in the email as "ring fenced clearly and properly", she accepted that the report "will be written as a slippery slope for me but I hardly have any reputation left".
She claimed Mr Blair told her he was "available for you [James Murdoch], KRM [Rupert Murdoch] and me "as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us". Her email concludes by saying that Mr Blair will be "sending more notes later".
The former Labour leader's advice to Mrs Brooks came as his successor Ed Miliband was heading parliamentary demands that Mr Murdoch's News Corp withdraw its bid for full control of BSkyB.
Mr Miliband was the leading voice in July 2011 challenging the organisation and calling for a judicial investigation into phone hacking at UK newspapers. Downing Street announced on 13 July that Lord Justice Leveson would lead to a full judicial inquiry.
On Wednesday night Mr Blair's office issued a statement saying he had simply given informal advice over the phone. It said: "He made it absolutely clear to Ms Brooks that, though he knew nothing personally about the facts of the case, in a situation as serious as this it was essential to have a fully transparent and independent process to get to the bottom of what had happened.
"That inquiry should be led by credible people, get all the facts out there and that if anything wrong were found there should be immediate action taken and the changes to the organisation made so that they could not happen again," it added.
The case continues.
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