UK Phone Hacking Trial Underway: Court Told of Tabloids’ ‘Decade of Deceit’

Rebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey in London Photo: Heathcliff O'MalleyRebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey in London Photo: Heathcliff O’Malley

By Martin Evans, John Bingham and Sam Marsden, The Telegraph UK – October 30, 2013

Members of the Royal family, celebrities and Cabinet ministers were targeted by phone hackers and corrupt public officials were bribed during a 10-year conspiracy at tabloid newspapers overseen by Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, the Old Bailey heard.

News International journalists intercepted at least 13 voicemails belonging to Lord Freddie Windsor, the son of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, as well as listening to messages left by Princes William and Harry for their private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a jury was told.

At the start of the six-month trial into the activities at The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, more than a dozen well-known figures were named as alleged victims.

They included Kate Moss, the model, Jude Law, the actor, the actresses Joanna Lumley and Sienna Miller, and Will Young, the pop star. Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, David Blunkett, the former home secretary, and Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister, were some of the politicians who were targeted, the court heard.

The jury was told that Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson must have known and approved of what was going on because they “controlled the purse strings”.

According to the prosecution, Mrs Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, attempted to cover up her role in the alleged criminal conspiracy in July 2011 by hiding evidence from police.

Mr Coulson, who became the director of communications for David Cameron after leaving the newspaper group, authorised illegal payments to police for information, it was alleged.

It can also now be disclosed that Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective who was paid more than £100,000 a year by the News of the World, has pleaded guilty to hacking the voicemails of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2002. Three other former senior journalists at the Sunday tabloid, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup, have also pleaded guilty to conspiring to intercept voicemail messages.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Andrew Edis QC told the jury of nine women and three men that these guilty pleas suggested that phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World.

He added that when Mulcaire’s premises were raided in 2006, thousands of pages of notes documenting phone hacks were discovered.

Mr Edis said that, as editor of the News of the World when Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked, Mrs Brooks had been “active in the conspiracy”.

The jury was told that after taking over as editor of the News of the World from Mrs Brooks in 2003, Mr Coulson had authorised his royal editor to pay a Palace police officer for royal telephone directories. Mr Edis suggested this had been done partly to obtain phone numbers of key people in the royal household in order to hack their voice messages.

He said: “The prosecution say that at a newspaper where there is a great deal of phone hacking going on, and which is intensely interested in the Royal family, the acquisition of phone books with phone numbers is something of obvious significance because it would be very useful, wouldn’t it, in doing some phone hacking.”

But Mr Edis explained that the trial would not solely be about phone hacking and not just about illegal activity at the News of the World, but also its sister paper, The Sun.

Mr Edis said Mrs Brooks, who left the News of the World for The Sun in January 2003, had approved payments to public officials for stories, often about the private lives of famous people.

There was evidence, Mr Edis said, to suggest Mrs Brooks had personally signed off payments in excess of £40,000 to one Ministry of Defence official, who had top security clearance.

This had led to one Sun story with the headline: “Army Bonking in the Congo”, the court heard.

When in July 2011 the revelation that Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been hacked, caused the “balloon to go up”, Mrs Brooks then conspired with others to cover up the extent of her role in the illegal activity, the jury was told.

It was alleged that she got her “trusted” personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, to remove seven boxes containing her notebooks from a News International archive.

Mr Edis said: “They were got out of the archive on the Friday before the last edition of the News of the World. After that the building was sealed and became a crime scene.”

He added: “The prosecution say that they have disappeared – and the police would have wanted to know what was in those notebooks.”

It is also alleged that before her arrest, Mrs Brooks conspired with her husband, the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, News International’s head of security, Mark Hanna, and others to hide phones, computers and iPads from police officers who were investigating the hacking scandal. Mr Edis stressed that the trial was not about the press in general, telling jurors: “The prosecution says that it is important in a free country that there is a free press.” But he added: “Journalists are no more entitled to break the criminal law than anybody else.

“There is no justification at all for journalists to get involved in phone hacking.

“That is an intrusion into people’s privacy which is against the law. The prosecution says also that it is not right for newspapers to corrupt public officials by paying money so that they break their trust.” He went on: “There can be no justification at all for anyone interfering with a police inquiry, not journalists, not anyone.”

The court heard that Mulcaire, who was convicted of phone hacking along with Clive Goodman, the News of the World’s former royal editor, in 2006, had been on a retainer with the tabloid worth £100,000 a year.

Mr Edis said the newspaper was “conspicuously silent” about what it got for its money.

He told jurors: “What you have got to decide ultimately is how much did the management, the bosses, know about what was going on in their newspaper, how much did they know about what was being published in their newspaper and where it was coming from, how much did they know about why it was right to publish a particular story in their newspaper, in other words did they know it was true.”

He went on: “The News of the World was a Sunday paper that means it publishes once a week or at most 52 times a year — it wasn’t War and Peace, it wasn’t an enormous document.

“It was the sort of document that if you were its editor you could take an interest in its content without too much trouble.

“What you must consider is whether these people were doing their jobs properly in which case they must have known where some of these stories were coming from.”

Mrs Brooks is charged with one count of conspiracy to hack phones, two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office and two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Mr Coulson is charged with one count of conspiracy to hack and two of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Stuart Kuttner, a former News of the World executive, and Ian Edmondson, a former head of news at the tabloid, each face one charge of conspiracy to hack voicemails; Mr Goodman faces two misconduct charges; Mrs Carter faces one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice; Mr Brooks faces one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and Mr Hanna also faces one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

All eight defendants deny all the charges. The case continues.

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