Day 62, Part 1: Rebekah Brooks received messages of support from politicians and journalists, and death threats from the public, in the days after the Milly Dowler story broke, the phone hacking trial heard today.
Emails and text messages read out in court by Mrs Brooks’s barrister showed that Tony Blair, Piers Morgan and colleagues urged Mrs Brooks to keep her spirits up in the hours after the News of the World’s targetting of the missing teenager hit the headlines.
Explaining her reaction to the story breaking online on 4 July 2011, Mrs Brooks said that she broke off from accompanying the potential surrogate mother of her child at a fertility clinic to scan the story.
Her immediate response was “disbelief”, she said, at the suggestion that the paper had deleted the messages of the missing teenager, giving her parents false hope she was alive.
Stressing the Guardian’s error by suggesting Milly’s messages had been deliberately deleted, Mrs Brooks told the Old Bailey:
“I think the original version of the story said that the News of the World had accessed Milly Dowler’s voicemail while she was missing and deleted the messages and her mother had then spent a period of time believing she was alive. So it was pretty horrific – and the people back in the office were thinking the same thing.”
She said the fact that Labour MP Tom Watson had raised the issue in Parliament and the Dowlers’ lawyer Mark Lewis had given interviews almost straight after the story appeared suggested the moves had been co-ordinated.
She told the court:
“The whole release of it seemed to be very orchestrated because everyone else knew. The lawyers knew, Parliament seemed to know, and we were there in News International with police in the building two or three times a month… and we were the only people who didn’t know if it was true or not.”
Her lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, read out text exchanges between Mrs Brooks and her friend, the former NoW editor Piers Morgan on the night of 4 July.
Mr Morgan texted her: “When it rains it fucking pours. Grit your teeth and stay strong.”
Mrs Brooks, chief executive of News International, replied: “Terrible. Left me sick watching TV.”
Mr Morgan responded: “If it wasn’t a staffer, you have to get that out there [to the media] fast.”
Tony Blair also sent his support on 5 July. The former Labour prime minister told Mrs Brooks: “Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. Thinking of you. I’ve been through a few things like this.”
Mrs Brooks told him that the story looked like “GB [Gordon Brown] pals getting their own back.”
Mrs Brooks also received messages of support from the Sun’s political editor Tom Newton-Dunn, who told her: “Don’t let the bastards get you down” – and its sports editor Mike Dunn, who told her he knew that she was “the greatest editor and journalist” he had ever known. He said that he knew Mrs Brooks would have had no role in the NoW’s hacking of the 13-year-old’s messages.
Mrs Brooks told the court she was also receiving less helpful messages from the public. She told the court:
“I was getting a lot of support from my old team at the News of the World and the Sun, and I was also getting quite a large influx from the – quite rightly – from mild criticism to all out death threats. I think we had a bomb threat. The allegations I think were understandably met with revulsion and I was the central figure for that.”
She said she had first considered resigning on the night of Monday 4 July, in which she had not slept, but had had to wait until she could speak to Rupert Murdoch, who was attending a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
When Mr Murdoch finally arrived in the UK on Sunday 10 July, he ordered her not to resign, she said.
Mr Laidlaw read out emails from Mrs Brooks to NI executives urging them to retain as many staff as possible following the News of the World’s closure.
Mrs Brooks, editor of the News of the World between 2000 and 2003, denies conspiracies to hack phones, commit misconduct in public office and pervert the course of justice.