Rebekah Brooks personally approved payment of almost £40,000 to a civil servant in return for information, the phone hacking trial heard today. Mrs Brooks was editing the Sun newspaper when the payments were made to the official, Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, told the jury.
Delivering his opening statement at the third day of the trial, Mr Edis told the Old Bailey that Mrs Brooks and Andy Coulson would have “known” about phone hacking during their earlier time editing the News of the World.
He made public the fact that at an earlier hearing, three news editors at the News of the World, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup had already admitted conspiracy to hack phones. A private detective who worked for the News of the World, Glenn Mulcaire, had also earlier pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack phones, he disclosed.
Eight defendants are on trial at the Old Bailey: Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, Stuart Kuttner, Clive Goodman, Ian Edmondson, Cheryl Carter, Mark Hanna and Mrs Brooks’s husband, Charlie Brooks.
Opening the case, Mr Edis told the jury the case concerned three types of criminal offence – phone hacking, misconduct in public office, and perverting the course of justice. In all cases, the charges were of conspiracy, where at least two people had made “an agreement” to commit a crime, he told the jury.
On Count 1, in which Mrs Brooks, Mr Coulson, Mr Edmondson and Mr Kuttner are accused of conspiracy to hack phones, Mr Edis said that the prosecution case was “quite simple.”
He said: “We say we will be able to show that there was phone hacking at the News of the World, that Glenn Mulcaire did it, that Clive Goodman did it, that Ian Edmondson did it, and that in the case of each of the other people charged that they knew about it… and were allowing it to happen.”
On two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, offences against Mr Goodman and Mr Coulson, Mr Edis said that Mr Goodman had sent emails to Mr Coulson, then his editor, asking to acquire royal phone directories from a police officer at Buckingham Palace. When Mr Goodman’s house was searched by police in 2006, they found 15 royal phone directories containing the addresses and phone numbers of members of the Royal Household, the court heard.
Mr Edis said: “The prosecution say that in the context of a newspaper where there was a great deal of phone hacking going on and which was intensely interested in the Royal Family, the acquisition of these phone numbers is something of significance.”
On Counts 4 and 5 against Mrs Brooks, Mr Edis said: “While editor of the Sun she approved payments in cash to public officials. In cash. Quite large sums in one case… Mrs Brooks herself personally approved nearly £40,000 to [a public] official.”
Detailing the two charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice against Mrs Brooks, the prosecution said that she and others had tried to hide evidence from police in July 2011. During the “great storm” about hacking that month, Mrs Brooks and her personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, had removed notebooks from News International’s archive, which had never been found, he said.
With her husband Charlie Brooks and Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security, Mrs Brooks, he said, had separately tried to hide “all the phones, all the phones, all the ipads, all the documents.” He told the jury: “It was discovered as a result of an accident, that was rather bad luck for all those involved.”
During two hours on his feet, Mr Edis stressed that the prosecution was not against newspapers. “This prosecution is not an attack on the freedom of the press, or on journalism, or anything like that. The prosecution accepts that it is important in a free country to have a free press. But the prosecution says that journalists have no more right to break the criminal law than anyone else.”
He told the court: “From 2000 to 2006 there was phone hacking done for the benefit of the News of the World – and at its expense. It started when Rebekah Brooks was the editor but continued after Mr Coulson took over.”
He showed the jury of nine women and three men extracts of Mr Mulcaire’s notes which showed that he had targeted the singer Will Young, the model Kate Moss and somebody close to the actress Joanna Lumley. Found too in Mr Mulcaire’s home, he revealed, were audio recordings of 13 of Lord Frederick Windsor’s voicemails and 17 recordings of voicemail messages from the phone of Sally Anderson, a friend of the former Home Secretary David Blunkett.
Mr Edis said that tomorrow (Thursday) he would tell the jury how the phone hacking story had come out, maintaining an “intense focus” on the events of April 2006. He told the jurors he would also deal with the hacking of the senior Labour politicians John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, and the former Culture Minister, Tessa Jowell, as well as of Lord Frederick Windsor, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent.
All eight defendants deny the charges. The case continues.
This is the first of the reports on the phone hacking trial published on the Hacked Off website.