Day 57, Part 1: Rebekah Brooks today denied any involvement in the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. Giving evidence at the Old Bailey, Mrs Brooks said she had not known that the schoolgirl’s voicemail had been intercepted days after her disappearance in 2002.
She only learnt of the hacking at 4pm on 4 July 2011, when the Guardian had broken the story, she told the phone hacking trial.
Asked her response to the news then, Mrs Brooks told the Old Bailey: “Well, you know, shock, horror. Everything.”
The jury has heard that the News of the World’s private detective Glenn Mulcaire was tasked to hack phones on more than 500 occasions during Mrs Brooks’s editorship between 2000 and 2003.
However, Mrs Brooks told the court that although she had read “publicity” about the phone hacking, she had no first-hand knowledge of it during her editorship.
Asked by her counsel Jonathan Laidlaw QC: “Were you ever asked to sanction accessing another person’s voicemail as part of an investigation or as a technique generally,” Mrs Brooks replied: “No”.
The redtop executive, editor of the NoW and later the Sun, told the court that in the early 2000s she did not think anybody, including her, had known that hacking was actually illegal.
However, she added: “No-one – no desk head or journalist – ever came to me and said: ‘”We are working on such and such story and we need to access their voicemails…”
She added: “Even though I didn’t know it was illegal, it was absolutely in the category of a serious breach of privacy.”
Asked whether she would have approved a hack, she said: “I may have”, but only if there had been a story overwhelmingly in the public interest, such as “about paedophiles”. She added: “But it’s hypothetical, because it didn’t happen.”
Mr Laidlaw ran through the timeline of Milly Dowler’s disappearance, showing that Mrs Brooks had been on a week’s holiday in Dubai when her voicemail inbox was hacked between 10 and 12 April.
That Sunday, 14 April, the News of the World’s first edition had run a story about Milly containing a reference to a voicemail that was edited out of later editions.
Phone records show contact between the holidaying Mrs Brooks and her deputy Andy Coulson at the News of the World the day before, Saturday 13 April.
Mrs Brooks, whose best-known campaign during her editorship was her “For Sarah” naming and shaming of convicted paedophiles, was asked by Mr Laidlaw whether she had taken a special interest in Milly’s disappearance.
She said that although the disappearance of any schoolgirl would have been of interest to her because of the For Sarah campaign, she had learnt that most child sex crimes were committed by people known to the child, and the police had briefed reporters away from the idea that Milly had been abducted by a stranger.
A document shown to the court by Mrs Brooks’s defence (but not read out) appeared to confirm her belief that the police’s suspicion had fallen on Milly’s father [who was not involved in her death] – rather than a predatory paedophile.
Mrs Brooks said: “I remember being told quite early on that the police believed this wasn’t the case and the police steering us away from doing anything like launching the petition again.” She said she could not remember discussing Milly with Mr Coulson while she was in Dubai and he was editing the paper.
Asked what would she would have discussed with her deputy, Mrs Brooks replied: “I would have been quite interested in the Michael Greco buy-up,” adding that the EastEnders actor was a colleague of her husband, Ross Kemp.
Mr Laidlaw asked: “Do you remember having a conversation with Andy or anyone else about Milly Dowler?”
Mrs Brooks said: “I don’t remember a specific example of it. I may have done. There might have been an update on missing Milly, but I don’t remember any.”
Asked if she had been aware that the paper had dispatched reporters to Telford hoping to find Milly, Mrs Brooks told the court: “No, I think I would remember getting a call from Andy or whoever on the paper saying: ‘We’ve found Milly Dowler’ – but I don’t remember having any discussion about her disappearance.”
Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson deny conspiring to hack phones. The case continues.