Giving evidence for the third week at the phone hacking trial, Mrs Brooks initially said that she had not taken a close interest in Milly’s case since the paper had been briefed that her father rather than a predatory paedophile was a suspect in her disappearance.
The News of the World printed a story about the missing 13-year-old’s phone messages on 14 April 2002 while Mrs Brooks was on holiday in Dubai.
Phone records show that Mrs Brooks spoke to the editor’s office occupied by her close friend, sometime lover and now co-defendant Andy Coulson at least four times on the Thursday and Friday preceding publication.
Mrs Brooks, who has spoken repeatedly of her Sarah’s Law campaign against paedophiles following the murder of another missing girl, Sarah Payne, has told the trial that she only learnt of the NoW’s targetting of Milly on 4 July 2011.
Prosecutor counsel Andrew Edis QC asked her this morning: “Did you not take a special interest around Milly Dowler’s disappearance? Is that true?”
Mrs Brooks told the court: “Of course I took an interest in Milly Dowler’s experience… but it wasn’t of the same intensity I addressed Sarah’s Law.”
She added that the police had briefed the paper “early on” that Milly’s disappearance was not the same as Sarah’s because of the “question mark” over her father, and that the paper “did not approach it in the same way we did Sarah’s Law,” and did not run a petition “or other things”.
Mr Edis showed Mrs Brooks the news list for the paper on 26 March 2002, when she was editing, on which the third item was “Milly Murder.” He also showed her a draft NoW leader about Milly’s disappearance emailed to her by the paper’s managing editor Stuart Kuttner on 30 March 2002 in which Mr Kuttner seemed to have made “a clear link” between the two cases.
“So there was in your mind a clear link between them,” Mr Edis said, to which Mrs Brooks replied: “yes.”
Asked “You would have been extremely interested in it, wouldn’t you?”, Mrs Brooks replied: “Yes.”
After listening to a recruitment agency’s voicemail on Milly’s phone, the NoW – while Mrs Brooks was in Dubai – dispatched five or six staff to Telford to find whether she had been working at an Epson factory. [She had not, because she had been murdered by a nightclub bouncer, Levi Bellfield].
Mr Edis asked: “When you were on holiday, were you interested in this story?”.
Mrs Brooks told the court: “I would have been interested in this story, yes.”
He continued: “And would have wanted to keep it under review in case there were developments? Is that fair?”
Mrs Brooks said:
“The problem is it’s impossible to be in contact with the newspaper when you go away. I don’t remember telling anyone: ‘Keep me in touch about Missing Milly”. I just don’t think that was in my mind when I went on holiday.”
Mr Edis put it to her that if the newspaper had found Milly it would have been a big story which would been on the front page – which she agreed.
However she said that although she could not remember it was possible that some of her calls to the editor’s office would have been to his PA, she would have spoken to Mr Coulson at some point for an update.
“I don’t remember Telford ever being mentioned,” she said. “I don’t remember having a conversation about Milly Dowler with anyone while I was away.”
Mr Edis pointed out that in an email to Surrey Police Mr Kuttner had complained that detectives had failed to help the paper’s journalists when it was investigating the voicemail left on Milly’s phone.
Mr Edis asked her: “They were telling the police, but not you?”
Mrs Brooks replied: “Nobody told me that the News of the World or anyone at the News of the World had accessed Milly Dowler’s phone.”
Mrs Brooks, Mr Coulson and Mr Kuttner deny conspiring to hack phones. The case continues.