At a meeting four years ago, News International’s lawyers heard that its chief executive Rebekah Brooks had privately negotiated a £200,000-a-year agreement with PR agent Max Clifford to settle his claim for breach of privacy.
But, the phone hacking trial was told, the NI executives feared that the agreement should not be put in writing in because Mrs Brooks was expecting to be grilled by MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The minutes then record: “We either get something in writing, or she could physically turn up with cash to see him.”
Mr Clifford was one of a small number of individuals named in court in 2006 who had their voicemails intercepted by the News of the World’s specialist phone hacker, Glenn Mulcaire.
After hearing that fellow victim Gordon Taylor had sued the NoW’s owners for compensation, Mr Clifford launched his own case which was proceeding through the courts in early 2010.
In January 2010, News International chief executive Mrs Brooks, legal chief Jonathan Chapman, NoW lawyer Tom Crone and Julian Pike from the law firm Farrers met to discuss how to conclude the case – which risked blowing the company’s lone rogue reporter defence.
Those present were especially concerned that Mr Clifford’s legal team had applied for a court order that, if granted, would force hacker Mulcaire to name which journalists commissioned him.
Read out at the hacking trial by prosecutor Andrew Edis QC today, the notes recorded: “Brooks reported that she got Max to agree £200,000 per annum to represent the Sun/do business with the Sun. He would call the lawyers off the next day if the deal was put in writing.” It added: “She [Brooks] then spoke to NGN’s lawyers who said she should not put anything in writing.”
Mrs Brooks, the note continued, discovered that she would not have to give evidence to the select committee after all, and: “Her view was things [a deal in writing] could change. The offer with Clifford still stands but the longer we go down the case the more difficult it will be to make the deal,” the note added. “We either get something in writing or she could physically turn up with cash to see him.”
The note said:
“You have to think about what is worse – her doing a deal with Max which will be perceived as a cover up or indemnifying Mulcaire so that he won’t say anything about NGN. He could say anything and he could say anybody – Chapman said it would certainly be difficult to prove that he was just making up names. Brooks said it would terrible if seen to be ‘buying off’ Max.”
In a separate email sent in early 2010, Mrs Brooks asked the Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times to think again about running a story about the MMR vaccine which – she suggested – Mr Clifford did not want to appear in the paper. “Tricky one,” she wrote to Martin Ivens on 20 February 2010, “but can you do me a favour?”
Describing the PR agent as a “slippery fish” Mrs Brooks said that NI was at a delicate stage in the negotiations with Mr Clifford and asked Mr Ivens to think again about the story. Mr Ivens, now editor of the Sunday Times, dropped the story, telling Mrs Brooks: “No problems. The story is quite minor league, so will leave it.”
Mrs Brooks, NoW editor between 2000 and 2003 and NI chief executive between 2009 and 2011, denies conspiring to hack phones. The prosecution case is expected to finish tomorrow.
The judge told the jury that may not retire to consider their verdicts until mid-May.