In his closing speech, Jonathan Laidlaw QC suggested his client had been put at a disadvantage by inaccurate, biased and in some cases “downright cruel” media coverage and comment.
He maintained the evidence showed only a few proven cases of phone hacking during Mrs Brooks’s editorship of the News of the World between May 2000 and January 2003.
Of 550 taskings of the paper’s specialist hacker Glenn Mulcaire in that period, 330 had no note of a mobile phone number and only 12 showed any “significant” evidence of hacking or preparation to hack, such as a voicemail PIN number.
In addition, Mr Laidlaw told the jury, there was no evidence that Mrs Brooks had ever met Mulcaire, nor that she had known about his £92,000-a-year contract with the paper signed in September 2001.
Mr Laidlaw rubbished the case presented to the court by the chief prosecutor Andrew Edis QC, saying its essence was that Mrs Brooks “must have known.”
Mr Laidlaw said: “We are thankful that the Mulcaire notes still exist for the period of Mrs Brooks’ editorship”. That was because they showed “very little” hacking, he said.
Mr Laidlaw told the court:
“Whatever Mr Edis may wish, or what he says, there’s no getting around this fact: Mulcaire’s notes actually prove, they demonstrate, and the evidence is that phone hacking rarely occurred during Mrs Brooks’ editorship. It was very far from being something she must have known about – carried out on occasion by a man far removed from the offices of the News of the World and with whom she had no contact.”
Beginning his speech, Mr Laidlaw asked the jury to imagine they were watching the trial of a “loved one” from the public gallery, in which case they would no doubt be feeling “anxiety” that the case had been heard against a “a backdrop of considerable attention from the media.”
Much of the coverage had been opinion or comment and displayed inaccuracy, bias and downright cruelty, he said. He did no cite any examples.
Mr Laidlaw said:
“Can anyone be independent enough, strong enough, to avoid being influenced by it? You fear for your loved one would be… whatever the evidence, she [Mrs Brooks] is starting at a disadvantage, some yards behind the starting line and she cannot win.”
Despite the “vitriol” aimed at his client, there was no “smoking gun” to implicate her, he said.
“We have seen the prosecution construct a case not on direct evidence, but around inference,” the QC told the court.
“They have not been careful in the case… The prosecution called at least one witness who lied to the jury and who was always going to lie, and we have seen a policeman mislead – to protect the ultimate prosecution theory in this case: ‘Rebekah Brooks must be guilty, no matter what.”
Mr Laidlaw said that a Metropolitan Police detective, DC Pritchard, had erroneously stated that Mrs Brooks’ MacBook Air computer left at News International did not reveal her work for the company, when it had. He told the jury: “DC Pritchard’s evidence could not have been more misleading.”
Mr Laidlaw also attacked prosecution witness Eimear Cook, who said in her evidence that Mrs Brooks had talked at a social engagement about how easily phones could be hacked. Mr Laidlaw complained that the prosecution had made an extraordinary decision “not only to call but to stand by the evidence of a lying witness: Eimear Cook.”
He suggested that the Crown was wrong to state that Mulcaire only phone hacked, citing 10 examples between 2001 and 2003 which suggested that at the start of his News of the World contract he was blagging.
In a note on Radio One DJ Sara Cox, for instance, the lawyer said Mulcaire had noted down details about her Audi TT car such as its registration number. In a note on the Earl of Strathmore, Mulcaire had written: “Where is he this weekend?” and two possibilities of where he might have been.
As Mrs Brooks looked on from behind the glass-walled dock, Mr Laidlaw said: “She certainly never told Mulcaire to hack a phone – and when she was in charge he hardly ever did it.”
Mr Laidlaw QC told the jury that Rebekah Brooks could not have agreed to the hacking of Milly Dowler because she was on holiday at the time.
Jonathan Laidlaw, QC, for Mrs Brooks, said the News of the World’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, tasked a private detective to intercept the missing girl’s messages on Wednesday 10 April 2002.
Yet, he added, Mrs Brooks was on holiday in Dubai and phone records for incoming and outgoing calls to her mobile showed she had no contact with the paper before Thursday 11 April 2002.
That meant, Mr Laidlaw said, that Mrs Brooks could not have agreed to the hacking.
He told the jury at the Old Bailey:
“If there’s one thing you can be sure about in this case is that Rebekah Brooks is not guilty of the hacking of Milly’s phone. She was on holiday when the hacking of Milly’s phone took place.”
The interception of a message about a job interview mistakenly left for Milly by a recruitment agency prompted the News of the World to print a story about the mystery call on Saturday 13 April.
Mr Laidlaw disputed the evidence of a witness, William Hennessey, who told the court that while he was with Mrs Brooks in Dubai that Friday or Saturday she broke off from the meeting mentioning something important about “a missing Surrey schoolgirl.”
Mr Laidlaw told the jury: “You may think Mr Hennessey’s evidence is not very reliable, at all.”
He also dismissed as “outrageous” the prosecution’s speculation that the exchange of two texts between Mrs Brooks and the NoW’s acting editor, Andy Coulson, at 9.08pm and 9.12pm that Saturday, 13 April 2002, were about the story.
He reminded the jury that the lead prosecutor, Andrew Edis QC, wondered whether the texts might have related to the downgrading of the recruitment agency story at 9.30pm that night after it had been rubbished by the police.
The defence’s own work had exposed that the story had been moved later, between the second and third editions, Mr Laidlaw told the jury.
He said there were any number of reasons why News of the World staff would not have told Mrs Brooks about the hacking once she was in contact with the paper on Thursday 11 April, and on her return to the UK the following week, when she was unlikely to have noticed the downgraded, page 30 story about Milly.
As evidence of Mrs Brooks’ ignorance of the hacking, Mr Laidlaw quoted private texts she had sent to colleagues in the aftermath of the Guardian’s story revealing the targeting of the 13-year-old in July 2011. To Sun political editor, Mrs Brooks texted: “Thanks, Tom. We thought there would be a hit on Sky, but if this is true, it’s absolutely sickening.”
Mrs Brooks told columnist Sue Carroll: “Not sure if true, but bloody awful if it is.”
Mr Laidlaw said that the Milly Dowler story was the only story from phone hacking printed in the News of the World during his client’s editorship.
Turning to the hacking of firefighters union leader Andy Gilchrist, he told the court: “No story resulted from the hacking of his phone by Mulcaire at the News of the World in December 2002.”
Mr Laidlaw also said hacking could not have been responsible for the kiss and tell story on Mr Gilchrist published in the Sun on 13 January 2003 (which Mrs Brooks had just started editing), because that relationship had been over for four years old and two witnesses had told the court that the tale had come from a member of the public.
He said: “It’s little short of absurd to suggest there’s any valuable evidence in this.”
He also rejected the prosecution’s suggestion that Mrs Brooks had learned the identity of David Blunkett’s lover from her own occasional lover Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World, which had been hacking the Home Secretary’s phone.
Mr Laidlaw suggested that, instead, Mrs Brooks had established Kimberley Quinn’s name from a phone call with Mr Blunkett’s special advisor, Huw Evans.
Mr Laidlaw told the court: “She didn’t get the name from Andy Coulson. Lovers they may have been but there was no love lost between their papers.”
Mr Laidlaw is expected to finish his closing speech tomorrow afternoon.
All defendants deny the charges. The jury is expected to retire on Monday 9 June.