Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the two former News International editors at the centre of the phone-hacking trial, had a clandestine sexual relationship that lasted for six years and covered a period when criminal activity was taking place inside the News of the World, a jury at the Old Bailey was told.
On day three of the trial, the court heard that the secret affair began in 1998 and ended in 2004. Andrew Edis, QC, the prosecution’s leading counsel, told the court that the relationship spanned “the whole conspiracy period” and was central to the charges the pair are now facing. “What Mr Coulson knew, Mrs Brooks knew too,” he said. “And what Mrs Brooks knew, Mr Coulson knew too. That is the point.”
The relationship was discovered when officers from the Metropolitan Police, investigating the re-opened hacking case in 2011, searched Mrs Brooks’ London home and found a laptop in a cupboard. Mr Edis said an emotional letter to Mr Coulson written by Mrs Brooks was found on the computer. The jury was told that it was unclear whether or not it had ever been sent.
The letter outlined Mrs Brooks’ response to a request from Mr Coulson that their relationship needed to end. Despite the fact that the affair was apparently over and the discussion of agreed new “rules” for the future, Mrs Brooks nevertheless openly declared her love for Mr Coulson and admitted she was worried about how she would cope without him. In a highly emotional passage she wrote: “The fact is you are my very best friend. I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice, I love you, care about you, worry about you. We laugh and cry together... in fact without our relationship in my life, I am really not sure how I will cope. I’m frightened to be without you.”
Mrs Brooks edited the News of the World between 2000 and 2003, when she left to edit The Sun. Mr Coulson, who had been her deputy at the NOTW, then moved into the editor’s chair.
Mrs Brooks married the actor Ross Kemp in 2002, while Mr Coulson and his wife Eloise were married in 2000. Mr Edis explained to the jury that he was not deliberately intruding on their private lives, or making a moral judgment on their behaviour. Instead he said the key issue about the relationship concerned the criminal charges they both faced.
He said: “[They] are charged with conspiracy and, when people are charged with conspiracy, the first question a jury has to answer is how well did they know each other? How much did they trust each other?
“And the fact that they were in this relationship, which was a secret, means that they trusted each other quite a lot with at least that secret, and that’s why we are telling you about it.”
Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson, along with the former managing editor of the NOTW Stuart Kuttner, and the paper’s former news editor Ian Edmondson, are charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept mobile phone messages.
The charge against them relates to the period from October 2000 to August 2006. Three other former NOTW newsdesk journalists, Neville Thurlbeck, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, have already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge.
Eight defendants in the trial, which is expected to last until Easter, are facing a total of seven counts involving conspiracy to phone hack, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and making corrupt payments to public officials. Not all of the defendants face the same charges and all have pleaded not guilty.
The disclosure of the Coulson-Brooks affair came as the prosecution outlined the evidence it intends to present concerning the hacking of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. Glenn Mulcaire, the specialist investigator tasked by the NOTW to access private voicemails, pleaded guilty at an earier stage of the proceedings to hacking her phone in 2002.
Mr Edis said that if it is proved that Mr Kuttner, Mrs Brooks or Mr Coulson were involved in the commissioning of Mulcaire at that time, “then that is enough to convict them [on the conspiracy to hack charge].” He told the jury: “This is important.”
The jury were told that, following a campaign by the NOTW to publicise the names and addresses of convicted paedophiles after the killing of seven-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000, Mrs Brooks took a personal interest in the Dowler case. The prosecution stated that the NOTW had developed a relationship with Surrey Police, who were investigating the murder, and that following the commissioning of Mulcaire to access the schoolgirl’s phone, Mr Kuttner had contacted the investigation team telling them that the paper had a tape containing voicemails from her mobile.
Mr Edis said: “Surrey Police took no action about that at the time. It’s common ground [agreed between prosecution and the defence teams] that [they] should and could have investigated when it came to their attention. But perhaps at that time they may have thought it was really more important to find Milly.”
The jury had earlier been told that Mr Kuttner was “not just a bookkeeper” but had been a journalist who regularly attended editorial meetings and had been the paper’s main link and liaison and senior police officers. The jury also heard that Mr Kuttner’s own notebooks showed that he had contacted senior officers in charge of the Dowler investigation.
Mr Edis told the court that only hacking Milly Dowler’s phone could have given the NOTW the specific information that it published in its first edition on 14 April 2002.
The court heard how this article contained the contents of voicemails from Milly’s phone, but was later pulled from subsequent editions.
Although Mrs Brooks was on holiday in Dubai during the week leading up to the publication of the story, the jury was told that Mrs Brooks’ calls and texts to the NOTW increased in frequency significantly as the Saturday night publication deadline approached.
Mr Edis said the relationship between Mr Coulson and Mrs Brooks was crucial to understanding the background to the key editorial decisions that had been made inside the NOTW on the night the paper published the Dowler story.
It was alleged that Mr Kuttner, Neville Thurlbeck and others inside the paper had been aware of where the information about the Dowler story had come from. “It was phone hacking – and was not much of secret. Everyone seems to have known,” Mr Edis told the court.
He asked the jury to consider “whether the [information] had been kept from the editor and the deputy editor. And why on earth would it [have been]?”
Mr Edis told the jury that Mrs Brooks knew about the “practice” of phone hacking, saying that she was heard in 2010 to say that it was, in the late 1990s, “widespread across the whole newspaper industry” and that “no one thought it was wrong at that time”.
Mr Edis said that the jury would be told how, at a lunch in the autumn of 2005, Mrs Brooks revealed to Eimear Cook, the former wife of golfer Colin Montgomerie, that hacking was a simple process and only required the person’s mobile phone number and a factory pin code.
Mr Edis said that Ms Cook had been given an example by Mrs Brooks of a story “that had come from phone hacking” which related to Sir Paul McCartney, his former wife Heather Mills and an engagement ring.
In 2002 the NOTW published an article about the couple headlined: “Macca throws Heather’s ring out of hotel window. Exclusive.”
Mr Edis said that if Ms Cook was right: “That was an account by Mrs Brooks of that story during her editorship having being produced by phone hacking.” The crown is expected to continue its opening address on Friday.
The letter: What Brooks wrote to Coulson
“…Finally and the least of our worries, but how do we really work this new relationship? There are a hundred things that have happened since Saturday night that I would normally share with you..some important, most trivial.
The fact is you are my very best friend. I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice, I love you, care about you, worry about you. We laugh and cry together...infact without our relationship in my life, I am really not sure how I will cope. I’m frightened to be without you...but bearing in mind ‘the rules’ you will not know how I am doing and visa versa. The thought of finding out anything about you or your life from someone else fills me with absolute dread. Also you said I had to email you if anything important happened..like if I was ill? I don’t understand this...we are either there for each other or not surely?
Anyway, that really isn’t where I am confused. I know what horror it means and I know why we have to stick to it. But for example, how does this work thing manifest itself. Do we limit contact until we absolutely have too...like leaving our execs to sort run of the mill joint stuff? I don’t want to get this wrong. I hope that I’ve managed to put your mind at rest about Les..and that you two now have a better relationship. On KRM, well he’s not bollocking you must not brood on lack of calls.
Obviously I can’t discuss my worries, concerns, problems at work with you anymore..and visa versa..but I’ll assume unless I hear different that we keep our professional relationship to the minimum..and avoid if possible without it being in any way awkward. If it is necessary or more importantly right that we two editors should deal with it, then we will. If either of us feels that we are not striking this balance then we must say..??”