11 May 2012

LIVE BLOG: Rebekah Brooks at the Leveson inquiry

– Ms Brooks commiserated by Cameron, Osborne on her 2011 resignation
– Tony Blair attended Rebekah Brooks’s 40th birthday party
– Former Sun editor ‘not embarrassed’ by being Murdoch’s ‘priority’
– Email shows Culture Sec Jeremy Hunt sought phone hacking advice from NI PR chief
– Brooks defends ‘Sarah’s Law’ campaign

We now have the email and though some will say it is pretty rum it is not a killer strike. It’s yet another Fred Michel special claiming contact with JH (Jeremy Hunt) – “JH is now starting to look into phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10’s positioning.” Lethal if you believe that JH is JH himself. But JH will, no doubt, say that this was his sacked former special adviser, Owen Smith, up to his usual rogue activities.
Read Gary Gibbon’s blog

15.40 Rebekah Brooks: No journalist in the room would agree that “the story is more important than the truth.”

15.33 Asked if it was inflammatory to publish these names Rebekah Brooks says she did not predict any violent consequences, and instead describes the decision to do so as “bold” campaigning. However she does admit some regrets over the publication of a list of sex offenders.

15.30 Rebekah Brooks, pressed to explain her decision to publish in 2000 the names and photographs of known sex offenders during the campaign to establish Sarah’s Law following the death of Sarah Payne, says it was a way of highlighting the central issue of the campaign.

15.26 Asked about how a newspaper decides what constitutes the public good, Rebekah Brooks agrees the editor does have ultimate responsibility.

15.08 QC Robert Jay turns to the Baby Peter case. Rebekah Brooks dismisses his assertion that she rang the then Children Secretary Ed Balls in 2008 to demand the sacking of the former head of children’s services in Haringey, Sharon Shoesmith. Pointing out that the Sun had already launched a campaign for Shoesmith to go, to get “justice for Baby Peter”, Mrs Brooks says Ed Balls must have known the paper’s position on the issue.

15.05 Rebekah Brooks says that at no time in 2006 did the Browns raise any questions over the handling of the story, despite various social contacts between her and the couple.

15.05 Rebekah Brooks says she spoke to the Browns, in particular Sarah Brown, before receiving consent for publication of the original story.

15.04 “If the Browns had asked me not to run (the initial story), I wouldn’t have done.”

15.02 Pressed again by Robert Jay to divulge the source of the information about Gordon Brown’s son’s medical records, Rebekah Brooks refuses. She says she “thinks” a donation was made on the father’s behalf to a cystic fibrosis charity after the story was published.

14.59 “It is a terrible accusation for a former prime minister to make of a newspaper… that we had hacked into his son’s medical records.”

14.54 Rebekah Brooks says Gordon Brown formed the view that his son’s medical records had been accessed in a BBC interview in 2011. She says he did not believe this in 2006, when the Sun first published the story.

14.52 The former Sun editor explains that the newspaper’s source on the cystic fibrosis story had got the information because his own child had cystic fibrosis – he had got the information “slightly by involvement” through a charity.

“I’m not going to tell you any more about the source,” Rebekah Brooks states, because she fears it could lead to identification of her source.

14.48 Anthony Jay refers to a Sun article in which it dismisses as “false and a smear” the allegation that it hacked into former prime minister Gordon Brown’s son’s cystic fibrosis records. The information, the Sun claimed, was obtained by the father of another boy who had cystic fibrosis.

14.46 Lord Leveson intervenes on the subject of journalists’ relations with police officers. “It’s always up to individual conduct in these matters,” says Rebekah Brooks. “I felt the contact I had with police officers in these matters… was always appropriate. I never saw, in any of my dealings with police, any inappropriate conversations take place.

14.44 On the distinctions she saw between politicians and police officers, Rebekah Brooks says senior police officers were more inclined to want to go to a neutral venue like a restaurant – whereas contacts with politicians took place at Wapping or at party conferences.

14.42 On the subject of her meetings with Dick Fedorcio, the former Metropolitan Police press chief, Rebekah Brooks says she never obtained information from him which formed the basis of a story in the Sun.

However, she says “We would often ring Dick Fedorcio if we’d got a story from our own sources… And he was in a position to steer us away from it or give us a comment if we’d got it right.”

14.39 The former NI chief executive is asked about the last time she met John Yates, former Met Assistant Commissioner. “I didn’t see much of John Yates.” But she says she does not recall a “sit-down conversation” in which she discussed with him the issue of phone hacking.

14.35 Asked by Robert Jay about relations between James and Rupert Murdoch as the BSkyB bid developed, Rebekah Brooks denies being the go-between in an increasingly fraught father-son relationship – a claim made in the magazine Vanity Fair.

14.34 “Fred Michel worked for News Corp and not News international. He didn’t work for me, so my interactions were not as frequent.”

14.29 The text of the email in question, from Frederic Michel, reads: “Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon this week. He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in parliament a few weeks ago. This is based on his belief that the police is (sic) pursuing things thoroughly and phone hacking is nothing to do with the media plurality issue… It’s extremely helpful.”

14.29 Ahead of questioning Rebekah Brooks about a particular email, Robert Jay QC asks her why this one has survived while others have vanished.

14.27 “The strategy behind the bid was set by News Corp – and I had nothing to do with that” explains the former News International chief executive.

14.25 Rebekah Brooks denies knowing in December 2010 how everyone in the Cabinet stood in relation to the BSkyB bid by News Corp – she cites the fact that she did not know where Business Secretary Vince Cable stood.

14.23 “It was an entirely appropriate conversation,” Ms Brooks claims, describing it as a “one-minute conversation” at the start of dinner.

14.20 Rebekah Brooks admits talking about the bid in a dinner with George Osborne in December 2010.

14.18 Ms Brooks says she is “not sure” why she was copied into a Frederic Michel email to Matthew Anderson on the subject of the bid for BSkyB in October 2010.

14.15 Rebekah Brooks: “Like most journalists, I viewed public affairs and lobbyists with scepticism… but Frederic Michel (the News Corp lobbyist) was doing his job.”

14.14 George Osborne was “interested in our arguments” vis-a-vis the News Corp bid.

14.13 “Mr Cameron always made it very clear that it (the BSkyB bid) was a quasi-judicial decision.” Rebekah Brooks says the Conservative leader was “not particularly” supportive of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB.

14.11 On the subject of opposition to the News Corp bid for BSkyB, Rebekah Brooks admits putting “our side of the story”. She says she had a conversation with Chancellor George Osborne about it “some time in 2010”.

14.09 The former Sun editor denies using her newspaper as a means of disparaging politicians she did not particularly like.

14.05 Rebekah Brooks is questioned about an alleged remark to Labour MP Chris Bryant at the Labour Party conference in 2004. On the subject of Labour MP Tom Watson, she admits that the Sun has written “adverse” things about him.

12.58 Rebekah Brooks denies telling David Cameron that Dominic Grieve could not be Home Secretary. She says that David Cameron and George Osborne were at pains to tell her that they were going to bring in a Bill of Rights, despite Mr Grieve doubting that this was possible.

12.51 Rebekah Brook’s denies intervening directly with the PM over a campaign to review the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Rebekah Brooks has recalled David Cameron regularly signing off his text messages to her “LOL”, which he thought meant “lots of love until she pointed his mistake out to him, blogs Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon. Read more: Lots of love – DC’ texts to Rebekah

12.42 She adds: “I don’t see politicians as easily-scared people: most of them are strong, ambitious and highly-motivated.”

12.39 Asked if she didn’t understand she had a degree of personal power over politicians, Rebekah Brooks says “I just didn’t see it like that”.

12.38 Rebekah Brooks: “I don’t know a politician that would turn down a meeting with a senior journalist or broadcaster”

Click here for full analysis of the phone-hacking scandal


12.31 Rebekah Brooks says Cherie Blair raised the way the press portrayed her, saying a lot of the coverage was quite sexist and sometimes cruel and personal.

12.30 Brooks recounts that particularly in 2003 at the time of Operation Motormouth, a general debate was going on about press ethics.

12.28 Asked about conversations with politicians Rebekah Brooks says discussion of press regulation was infrequent. On self-regulation of the press, she says “not enough” discussion was had with politicians.

12.26 Rebekah Brook’s verdict on the removal of Vince Cable and the arrival of Jeremy Hunt to oversee the BSkyB bid decision: “at least now it would be fair.”

12.20 Rebekah Brooks says that although she played no formal role in the Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB, she was told of it in advance. Asked By Lord Justice Leveson of her informal role in the bid as someone extremely well-connected politically, she says “I did have an informal role .. mainly after the formation of the .. anti-Sky bid alliance [comprising the BBC and several newspapers], because that brought News International into the Sky bid.”

12.13 Rebekah Brooks explains that “Mr Cameron asked me what the update was” when phone hacking had been in the news, but denies the conversation was motivated by doubts over his hiring of Andy Coulson.

12.10 Asked if she discussed with David Cameron the phone-hacking allegations between July 2009 Guardian story and her departure from News International, Rebekah Brooks says she did, but “in the most general terms.. maybe in 2010 we had a more specific conversation about it” saying it was about the amount of civil cases coming up.

12.09 Rebekah Brooks did attend Mr Cameron’s private birthday party in 2010.

12.07 David Cameron signed his texts to Rebekah Brooks: “DC or occasionally ‘lol’, meaning lots of love, until I told him it meant ‘laugh out loud’.”

12.05 Brooks: I commented to Mr Cameron by text that, like everybody, I thought the first tv debate “wasn’t very good.”

12.03 Asked if David Cameron texted her up to 12 times a day, Rebekah Brooks says this is not true, “thankfully”. She says there were more texts during the election campaign, but on average texts came once a week.

11.58 Rebekah Brooks denies that she worried about any fallout from the angry conversation with Gordon Brown.

11.55 Rebekah Brooks: “I don’t think it’s fair to say that politicians live in fear of newspapers – they are highly motivated, ambitious people. MPs don’t scare easily.”

11.53 Rebekah Brooks recalls an “extraordinarily aggressive” conversation with Gordon Brown.

11.47 Ms Brooks explains that she did not speak to David Cameron before the Sun came out in favour of the Conservatives. She had felt it was more important to communicate this information to Gordon Brown. She says she left a phone message for both Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson asking to speak to them. She recalls Peter Mandelson using the “chump” word in response to the news.

11.45 Dominic Mohan (Sun editor), Trevor Kavanagh (former Sun political editor), James and Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks were all involved in the decision to move the Sun’s support to the Conservative Party. “We were all of a mind that this was the right thing to do – for the paper and for the readership.”

11.43 She agrees with robert Jay QC that she knew the decision to shift support from Labour would anger people within the Labour Party.

11.41 Rebekah Brooks explains that the fact that Gordon Brown spent less than two minutes on the subject of Afghanistan in his 2009 Labour Party conference speech confirmed the Sun in its decision to shift its support to the Conservatives.

11.32 Robert Jay QC asks Ms Brooks when she first learned that the Sun would be supporting the Conservative Party. “I think probably in June 2009, me and Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch had started to have discussions.”

11.30 The former Sun editor agrees that by the time of the Murdoch-Cameron meeting in 2008, she was friendly with David Cameron. But she stresses that her husband’s family had a previous connection with the Cameron family.

11.27 On the subject of the 2008 meeting in Greece between David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks explains that she was not consulted in relation to the arrangements. Rebekah Brooks was present at the time for Elizabeth Murdoch’s birthday. She says she was witness to one conversation about Europe between the Conservative Party leader and Mr Murdoch, although the two men had subsequent conversations when she was not present.

11.24 The inquiry resumes. Rebekah Brooks recalls hearing that Andy Coulson had become head of communications for David Cameron in 2007. “As a friend, I was probably pleased for him,” she says. She says she was not surprised that the Conservative Party had wanted to appoint Mr Coulson.

To read Rebekah Brooks’s witness statement in full, click here.

11.14 Lord Leveson announces a short break in today’s hearing.

11.10 On the Sun’s relationship with its readers: “We have a particular, close interaction with Sun readers… There is a great culture at the Sun newsroom that a reader is always to be respected.”

11.08 On the subject of the Sun’s anti-EU stance, she says: “We were pretty sure of where our readers stood on that matter” by 2009. On British failings in Afghanistan at the time, she claims the newspaper was also getting feedback from troops on the ground.

11.07 “We were running out of ways to support Mr Brown’s government” in March 2009, the former Sun editor explains.

11.03 Rebekah Brooks is asked about her relations with former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown. “The position of the Sun at the time (around March 2009) was not an overwhelming support for the Tory party.”

10.58 Rebekah Brooks: “2005 was a very difficult time for the Labour Party… The Sun newspaper, at the time under my leadership, we were very even-handed about that election process.”

She says she does not remember the fact of the Sun’s support for Labour in 2005 being the result of prior discussions with Tony Blair and his advisers. In 2005, she recalls, the decision on whom the Sun would support was left until the day of the vote. A Vatican-style chimney with coloured smoke was used on the roof at the Sun’s offices in Wapping, she explains, to indicate which party the newspaper would support.

Read our Who Knows Who profile of Andy Coulson, which details aspects of his working relationship with Rebekah Brooks.

10.51 The former Sun editor denies that “scoops” were fed to her newspaper by the government. She attributes the scoops and their quality to the abilities of former Sun political editor Trevor Kavanagh.

10.49 Rebekah Brooks on the hostility between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: “It wasn’t a playground spat”

10.46 On the subject of the hostility between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, Rebekah Brooks explains that in the latter years of Mr Blair’s premiership, the hostilities between him and Gordon Brown got increasingly worse. “It did become a Tony Blair camp and a Gordon Brown camp.”

But she denies she was on the side of either Blair or Brown – she was on the side of the readers.

10.45 “The role of a journalist is not just to gather information – it is also to analyse that information.” Gordon Brown and Charlie Whelan were more masters of spin than Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, says Rebekah Brooks.

10.44 The fact that politicians were “a constant presence” does not mean that they cannot be held to account, she says – if a politician ever put a friendship with a media company ahead of his/her ability to do their professional duties, then that is a failing.

10.42 Rebekah Brooks: “The point of New Labour embracing the media in a different way was that they felt they had a very big story to tell… about the changes they made to the Labour Party.”

10.40 Rebekah Brooks talks about her relationship with former prime minister Tony Blair. She concedes that her contacts with politicians increased from 2003, when she became editor of the Sun.

10.38 Rebekah Brooks says she was not embarrassed in 2009 when Rupert Murdoch announced that she was his “priority”. “It was only the next day” that she realised the newspapers had put a different interpretation on this remark.

10.35 Discussing a 40th birthday party for her at Rupert Murdoch’s house, Rebekah Brooks confirms that Tony Blair was there – but is unsure as to whether David Cameron was there.

10.32 Rebekah Brooks agrees with Andy Coulson’s claim that he would only speak to Rupert Murdoch a couple of times per month. “His contact with the NoW was much more limited than with the Sun.”

10.30 “You can present issues to the readership, yes, and that’s part of being an editor,” says the former editor of the Sun.

10.29 Rebekah Brooks: “Particularly for newspapers like the Sun, your power is your readership – it’s not an individual power, it’s a readership power.”

10.27 Newspaper editors “are not elected officials,” says Rebekah Brooks. But she denies that they are “unelected forces” – they are, she asserts, “journalists”.

10.13 Pressed on who they were from, she mentions indirect messages from No.10, No.11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office – also from people who work for them.

10.12 Did Rebekah Brooks get any messages of commiseration or support from politicians in July 2011? She says she got some, mainly in indirect messages.

10.11 Robert Jay QC asks Rebekah Brooks: did she get any emails/texts from Cameron/Osborne at time she left News International. She replies that she received one from Mr Cameron that was compressed – in June.

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=64330a4cca” _mce_href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=64330a4cca” >Rebekah Brooks gives evidence to Leveson</a>