The St Jude storm tried hard, but it would have taken a tropical cyclone to keep Fleet Street and the world’s media away from the opening day of the phone-hacking trial on Monday.
The pavements surrounding London’s Central Criminal Court were covered by television camera crews and line after line of damp photographers with their customised stepladders, all expecting the same individuals to eventually appear through their rain-flecked lenses.
They didn’t have to wait long. Well before the 10am start time, Rebekah Brooks, wearing a simple fawn overcoat and walking alongside her racehorse-trainer husband, Charlie, brushed past the Old Bailey scrum. This kind of high-profile reception, even in these days of 24/7 broadcast news, is still rare.
Andy Coulson, Ms Brooks’ former colleague at Rupert Murdoch’s News International, was also a must-get image for the gathered media. Wearing a dark overcoat with a blue shirt, dark tie and a poppy, he arrived looking sartorially prepared for even an unscheduled meeting at Downing Street, his workplace alongside David Cameron after he left the News of the World, which he edited.
Ms Brooks, 45, from Churchill, Oxfordshire, and Mr Coulson, 45, from Preston, Kent, are the two defendants with the highest profile in the hacking trial. Along with six others – including the former managing editor of the NOTW, its former news editor, a former royal correspondent and Ms Brooks’ former personal assistant – face a range of charges linked to an alleged conspiracy to illegally intercept mobile phone messages, corrupt payments given to public officials and attempts to conceal evidence. All have denied the charges against them.
Shortly after 10am, all eight defendants had made it past the outside media and the easing storm into the dock of court 12. They sat behind high-panelled glass in a long single row, facing out towards the trial judge, Mr Justice Saunders, and a sea of over 24 wigs and gowns belonging to the barristers, who, well into next spring, will present evidence and arguments, for the crown and the defence that will allow a jury to determine their innocence or guilt.
The eight defendants made no comment, other than to convey through their legal representatives that they were having difficulty hearing the chief prosecuting counsel, Mr Andrew Edis, QC. He promised to speak louder.
The formal process of picking the 12 members of the jury took up most of the opening day’s formal business. The empanelment procedure will continue on Tuesday, before the jury is formally sworn in and the trial opens. Almost 80 potential jurors, who will be whittled down to a dozen, were crowded into the side of court 12 and were told by Mr Justice Saunders that the case could last up to six months and cause “considerable disruption” to their lives.
As the selection process began, the judge described the trial as “important” and said: “This case concerns allegations of criminal conduct at the News of the World and The Sun newspapers which preceded the closure of the News of the World.”
The judge reminded the group that the jury selection process was not “voluntary” and that he needed valid and powerful reasons to excuse them – such as childcare issues, medical attention, pre-booked holidays, special employment issues or reading difficulties.
When one woman’s name was read out she walked towards the judge. She did not get far. Pregnant, with her coat unable to be buttoned, the judge stopped her and said: “That’s OK.”
Personal knowledge or contact with the News of the World was mentioned by the judge during the jury selection. He said this may present a difficulty because those involved had to approach the trial with an open mind.
Two journalists and a lawyer were among those rejected to sit on the jury. One potential juror told the judge she “felt a bit intimidated at the number of people in the courtroom”. Mr Justice Saunders reassured her, admitting: “So do I.”
In the dock: defendants and charges
Rebekah Brooks (NOTW editor 2000-2003, Sun editor 2003-2009, News Int chief exec 2009-2011) Conspiring to illegally intercept communications; two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office; two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by hampering the police inquiry.
Charlie Brooks (Racehorse trainer, husband of Rebekah Brooks) Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
Andy Coulson (NOTW editor 2003-2007, Tory director of communications 2007-2010, Government director of communications 2010-2011) Conspiring to illegally intercept communications; two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office
Ian Edmondson (Ex-NOTW news editor) Conspiring to illegally intercept communications
Clive Goodman (Ex-NOTW royal editor) Two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office
Stuart Kuttner (Ex-NOTW managing editor) Conspiring to illegally intercept communications
Cheryl Carter (Rebekah Brooks’ former personal assistant) Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
Mark Hanna (Ex-News International head of security) Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
All defendants deny the charges against them