Rebekah Brooks and her husband, Charlie, were at the centre of a complex cover-up operation that used Hollywood-style code names, allusions to spycraft and the ruse of pizza deliveries as they attempted to keep incriminating evidence from the police, the phone-hacking trial at the Old Bailey heard today.
The former Murdoch executive, her husband and an array of security men – who used the script from the war thriller film Where Eagles Dare to communicate – were accused of working together to “pervert the course of justice” on the day Mrs Brooks was arrested in 2011 in connection with Scotland Yard’s phone-hacking investigation.
The operatives allegedly directed by News International’s former head of security, Mark Hanna, began their scheme initially at the Brooks’s Oxfordshire farmhouse and then later at the couple’s London address in Chelsea Harbour.
Andrew Edis QC, the chief prosecuting counsel, said: “Mrs Brooks knew she was likely to be arrested and, if she was, the police would have the power to search her property.” He added: “Arrangements were made to remove material from both these addresses [Oxford and London] with a view to prevent material coming into the possession of the police.”
The jury heard that security staff drove first to the Brooks’s country address near Chipping Norton the night before the former chief executive of NI was arrested. Material was removed and taken to the Murdoch organisation’s UK headquarters in Wapping.
When Mr and Mrs Brooks returned to London, she initially visited her solicitors and then went to Lewisham police station for a formal interview by officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Weeting investigation into phone hacking.
The cover-up operation, which was eventually discovered, the prosecution says, from phone records, CCTV from the Chelsea address, and a final flaw in its execution, was going on while Mrs Brooks was being interviewed by police. When the security team thought it had successfully completed its missions at the two addresses, a message was sent by one of the operatives which said: “Broadsword to Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot.”
Mr Edis told the jury that the “Danny Boy” line was spoken by Richard Burton in the film of the Alistair Maclean thriller novel. “Burton was a field agent fighting the Nazis in Germany,” he added.
The prosecution said that as part of the complicated subterfuge at the Chelsea Harbour address, one of the security team posed as a pizza delivery man to avoid arousing suspicion during the operation. Contents of a text revealed a suggestion that the entire operation could be invoiced as a “pizza delivery”. Mr Edis told the jury: “Of course you cannot log any hours to ‘perverting the course of justice’. You have to say it’s something else don’t you?”
Mr Edis said that part of the concealment plan was to hide material contained in a black bag and left behind a bin in the underground car park at Chelsea Harbour. One of the experienced organisers of the plan, on being told that it was apparently a success, texted back: “Fucking amateurs. We should have done a DLB or brush contact on the riverside. Cheers mate…”
This, Mr Edis said, was a reference to espionage terminology where DLB stood for “a dead letterbox” where items could be anonymously left and later picked up. But the bag left behind the underground bin was noticed the following day by a cleaner at the complex, who handed it over to the police. The jury were told that CCTV footage showed that when Mr and Mrs Brooks returned to their London flat, they and others were involved in a search to find out what had happened to the material left behind the bin.
In another part of the prosecution’s opening, Mr Edis said that Mrs Brooks had taken steps – during the tense days surrounding the July 2011 decision to close the News of the World – to hide material that she believed could form part of the police’s investigations into phone hacking.
The court heard that she and her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, had removed seven boxes, containing Mrs Brooks’s personal notebooks, from NI’s company archive. The prosecution claimed that Mrs Brooks at the time knew there was a police investigation and a course of justice in existence which would be perverted if evidence was hidden.
The jury was told that Mrs Carter, along with her son Nick and Gary Keegan, the husband of Mrs Brooks’ other assistant, Deborah Keegan, went to the Murdoch company’s archive in Enfield in north London to collect seven boxes of notepads spanning 12 years of Mrs Brooks’ career at Wapping. It was alleged that the boxes were taken to Mrs Carter’s home.
Mr Edis said this group of people had been chosen to carry out this task two days earlier because they could be trusted. The jury were told the boxes of notebooks have never been found. During another part of the prosecution’s opening, Mrs Brooks was accused of taking a lead role in an email deletion policy inside News International in 2010.
Initially the deletion period was meant to cover the period up to 2007 when Clive Goodman, the former royal editor of the News of the World, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for the paper, were jailed for phone hacking.
The jury were shown internal emails sent to other company executives where Mrs Brooks asked how the deletion process was progressing, and in one communication asked for it to be extended from 2007 to 2010.
When this suggestion was questioned she replied: “Yes, January 2010. Clean sweep, thanks.”
Mr Edis said: “So there’s a change in the date. Now it is anything before January 2010. Which happens to catch her entire time as a working editor at News International.” The prosecution will begin its first full days of calling witnesses on Wednesday.
The trial is expected to last until Easter next year.
Conspiracy theory: timeline of evidence
1 News International - August 2010, Wapping, East London
An email deletion process is going on, the prosecution alleges. Rebekah Brooks asks for the deletions to be extended from 2007 to 2010. When this is questioned she replies in an email: “Yes, January 2010. Clean sweep, thanks.”
2 News International Archive - July 2011, Enfield, North London
Mrs Brooks’ former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, along with her son Nick and Gary Keegan, the husband of Mrs Brooks’ other assistant Deborah Keegan, allegedly go to the News International archive in Enfield, to collect seven boxes of notepads spanning 12 years of Mrs Brooks’ career in the Murdoch organisation. The boxes are taken to Mrs Carter’s home and the notebooks have never been found, the court hears.
3 The Brooks’ country home - July 2011, Jubilee Barn, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
Material – including unopened letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Brooks and bearing recent postmarks – is taken from the house and brought to London by car, the court hears.
When the police search the country property they find no computers or any relevant documentation.
4 The Brooks’ London flat - July 2011, Chelsea Harbour, West London
A complex cover-up involving pizza deliveries and codenames inspired by the Hollywood film Where Eagles Dare leads to a black bin bag containing a computer and other material, including letters from Jubilee Barn in Chipping Norton, being stashed in an underground car park, the court is told. The bag is discovered by a cleaner and handed to police.
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