Rebekah Brooks, the fiery haired former Editor of the News of the World, and then CEO of News International, stood before the jury in the Old Bailey today as they were told she must have known about phone hacking. Setting out the case for the prosecution, Andrew Edis, said that Brooks, 45, a close personal friend of both Rupert Murdoch and British PM, David Cameron, was undoubtedly aware of what was going on “her watch.” The phone hacking scandal led to the folding of the News of the World newspaper, a publication with 168 years of history. Brooks was also at the helm when the widespread practice of paying public officials for news stories was rife at The Sun. She was active in the conspiracy, Edis insisted, it is inconceivable that she was unaware of it.
Also in the dock is Andy Coulson, the ex-media adviser to the Prime Minister. He too is said to have been aware of the climate of widespread phone hacking and illegal payments that were the schonky modus operandi of the papers at that time. Coulson was deputy to Brooks and also headed up the now defunct Sunday scandal-rag. In their combined years of officialdom, intercepting people’s phones, hacking them, and ordering (and condoning) such tactics were commonplace. Those who were affected ranged from high-profile celebrities to ordinary families. In all, it went on for over a decade. Both Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are denying the charges which include obstructing the course of justice.
This is in light of three senior journalists now having pleaded guilty to the same charges before this long-awaited trial had even begun. They have been named as former News of the World writers, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup. They all worked on the news desk.
This criminal trial is going to run and run. It is not expected to reach a verdict until Easter of next year. What sparked it all off was the astounding and unsavory revelation that the News of the World had authorized the hacking of the phone of schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The 13-year-old girl was missing at this stage and was later found murdered. The interception of her voice messages gave her desperate parents false hope she may still be alive. They were understandably devastated by the uncovering of the facts that Glenn Mulcaire, an accomplished blagger and self-styled private detective, had been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by newspaper executives like Brooks and Coulson, to carry out such deeds. Milly’s phone was hacked in 2002, well into Brooks’s tenure from 2000 to 2003.
Andrew Edis has argued today that it is impossible that those at the top of the operations did not know that phone hacking was taking place. Rebekah Brooks must have known, he urged the jury. He said it was now their job to determine how far and how deep the conspiracy had reached. He sternly reminded them that journalists are not above the law, and no more entitled to break it than anyone else, no matter who their friends in high places might be.
Brooks is said to have personally signed off a payment of £40,000 ($64,000) to a very senior official in the Ministry of Defense. She also penned a letter, in 2007, declaring “no payments are made by The Sun without the written authorization of the editor.” Her husband, Charlie Brooks, another good buddy of the Camerons, is also on trial. He was filmed on CCTV attempting to dispose of old computers and notebooks in the couple’s underground garage. It is all a far cry from the days of cozy shared “country suppers” as recorded in the PM’s text messages to Rebekah, when she had to teasingly point out to him that LOL meant “laugh out loud,” not “lots of love,” as he imagined. It is not predicted that either of them are laughing right this minute.
“If these people were doing their jobs properly,” Edis said in court, “we say they must have known where these stories came from.” Otherwise, as he pointed out, “they would never have got in the paper.”
The Hacked Off campaign, led by actor Hugh Grant, achieved a sizeable victory for phone hacking victims with the imposition of the Leveson Inquiry. An extraordinary panopoly of public and well-known faces appeared before Leveson, including author J.K Rowling, singer Charlotte Church, actress Sienna Miller and Rupert Murdoch himself. The implications of his findings are still the subject of anxious debate in the British press.
Rebekah Brooks must have known. This is the categorical case as put forward by the prosecution. Now it is for the jury to decide –as Andrew Edis urged them today to consider: ”How much did they know about what was going on at their newspaper?”
Written by: Kate Henderson