25 Jun 2014

How the hacking trial unfolded: claims and counter-claims

It was one of the longest trials in English legal history that changed the media landscape and gave the public an unflinching glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous.

When Mr Justice Saunders finally dismissed the jury from court 12 of the Old Bailey on 11 June to consider seven months’ worth of evidence in the phone hacking trial, his parting words spoke volumes.

“Some of those on trial enjoyed a lifestyle you can only dream of, not just in financial terms but influence they brought to bear,” he said. “They were friends of politicians, they are friends of the stars. Many people only get to see them in the cinema or the football pitch.

“Do not envy them their success or be dazzled by it.”

And with that the jury were left to pore over evidence comprising hundreds of hours of testimony and thousands of documents in a case involving the former News of the World bosses Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. In terms of the relationship between politicians and the media, it was one of the defining trials of the 21st century.

The Milly Dowler moment

Ms Brooks was all-powerful editor of the News of the World (NoW) when the private detective Glenn Mulcaire got his first annual contract with the paper for £92,000 in 2001.

But she said she was on holiday when Mulcaire hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002.

While the issue of phone hacking had been raised in connection to celebrities such as Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller, it was this act that drew collective gasps around the country when it was revealed by the Guardian in 2011 and eventually led to the closure of the Sunday tabloid.

However, Mr Justice Saunders told the court that it was a matter of “historical fact” that a Guardian report saying voicemails on Dowler’s phone had been deliberately deleted were not true. Mr Justice Saunders told the jury the act of hacking a voicemail account could mean messages were deleted automatically by the mobile phone provider, and said the Guardian had been “wrong and they have accepted that”.

Some of those on trial enjoyed a lifestyle you can only dream of, not just in financial terms but influence they brought to bear. Mr Justice Saunders

That moment was vociferously argued in court by both prosecution and defence. Ms Brooks, 46, vehemently said she was unaware of Mulcaire or any phone hacking under her editorship. The only time a story was published from hacking was about Milly and she said she was “shocked” to find out about it in 2011, the court was told.

But the prosecution argued that Ms Brooks must have known what was going on and suggested an on-off love affair between her and her deputy Coulson that indicated the pair shared confidences.

Hacking intensifies

The prosecution alleged hacking activity increased at the NoW under Coulson, who took over the editorship in 2003 when Ms Brooks went to the Sun.

It included former royal editor Clive Goodman’s separate £500 a week deal with Mulcaire to target three royal aides between autumn 2005 and spring 2006. Later that year, both were arrested and convicted of phone hacking.

But Coulson, who later went on to work as a spokesman for the prime minister, said his only knowledge of any evidence of phone hacking was when then chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck pitched a story about home secretary David Blunkett declaring his love for Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn on voicemail in 2004.

He told the court he assumed Mr Thurlbeck had done it himself.

Public office

Coulson was also accused of conspiring with Goodman to commit misconduct in a public office. Emails were shown to the court in which Goodman apparently requested payment to police officers for two royal directories.

But Goodman said he was prone to exaggerate his sources’ importance and Coulson said he never actually believed they were public officials.

The sources have never been identified.

Ms Brooks was also accused of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by agreeing to pay a Sun journalist’s “number one military contact” on 11 occasions while editor of the daily paper. She denied knowing that was a public official.

Retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner was accused of being part of the hacking conspiracy at the NoW. He denied it, however, saying he was an old-fashioned journalist who believed in getting stories through traditional means.

Destruction of evidence

When the hacking scandal re-emerged in July 2011, Ms Brooks was accused of trying to hide or destroy evidence from police. The ex-News International (NI) chief executive was charged with conspiring with her personal assistant Cheryl Carter to pervert the course of justice.

The court heard Ms Carter had removed seven boxes marked as Ms Brooks’s notebooks from the NI archive. But she said they mainly contained her notebooks which she binned and anything belonging to her boss was returned to the office.

Around the time Ms Brooks was arrested on 17 July 2011, the prosecution said there was an attempt by her, her husband Charlie Brooks and NI head of security Mark Hanna to pervert the course of justice. Bags of property were found stashed in the underground car park of the Brooks’ London flat by a cleaner and handed in to police.

Mr Brooks said the property, which included pornography as well as computer equipment, were all his and had nothing to do with the case.

The outcome

Andy Coulson was found guilty of plotting to hack phones and will be sentenced next week.

Rebekah Brooks was cleared of hacking, misconduct in a public office, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perverting the course of justice.

Stuart Kuttner was cleared of plotting to hack phones.

Charlie Brooks, Cheryl Carter and Mark Hanna were cleared of perverting the course of justice.

The jurors failed to reach a verdict on allegations that Coulson and Goodman conspired to commit misconduct in a public office. He will will consider the possibility of a re-trial on Monday.