17 Jan 2014

Pizzagate and ‘lesbian lovers’ – phone hacking trial week 10

“Lesbian Lovers”, Pizzagate and “f****** amateurs” all featured in the latest evidence in the phone hacking trial.

More details about an alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice emerged among five interesting details in three days of evidence heard in court.

1) Rebekah Brooks had office and home swept for bugs

During the cross-examinations of News International facilities manager Jane Viner, it emerged that the company used contractors to sweep for bugs in its offices.
This, said William Clegg QC for Mark Hanna, was “entirely normal” for news organisations like News International. Ms Viner agreed it was “normal and routine”. The court was told a company called White Rock was contracted to do much of the sweeping.

The reason for the frequency of this sweeping in 2011? Mr Clegg explained that News International was concerned to keep the details of its planned takeover of BSkyB out of the public domain. He put it to Ms Viner that News International and its parent News Corp “would want to be sure discussions about such a matter were not broadcast to people who were potential competitors”.

Nor was it just the News International offices that were swept to guard against the attentions of competitors. On 25 January 2011, Mrs Brooks emailed the then general manager of News International, Will Lewis, copying in her head of security and fellow defendant Mark Hanna, to request: “Can we have my phones, and office swept…. thanks.[sic]Discreetly.”

2) News International set up three security operations to protect executives

As allegations of ‘phone hacking were made public, News International executives began to be targeted by threatening and abusive emails. It was thus that the company decided to mount three security operations to protect its top executive. The court heard that they were planned by military veteran Mark Hanna and given suitable codenames. “Operation Kestrel” would protect the then general manager Will Lewis. “Operation Sparrowhawk” would guard the PR supremo Simon Greenberg. And “Operation Blackhawk” would protect the chief executive officer Rebekah Brooks. It is the details of Blackhawk that are now being fought over in the courtroom.

3) CCTV footage of part of “Operation Blackhawk” shown in court for the first time

For the first time, the trial saw CCTV footage from the car park beneath Mr and Mrs Brooks’ luxury flat in London’s Chelsea Harbour. The footage, the prosecution alleges, shows a plot to hide computer evidence from the police on the day officers searched the homes of the former News International CEO.

The events, the jury learned, became known to their alleged participants as “Pizzagate”. The prosecution has described the events as part of a “quite complicated and risky” plan to hide material from the police.

In the footage, Rebekah Brooks’ husband Charlie is shown entering the car park with objects under his arm. The jury was told these objects were a jiffy bag and a laptop. The CCTV shows Mr Brooks walking out of shot – towards, the jury was told, an area where refuse bins were stored. He re-enters the shot shortly afterwards, without the objects. Across the city, the jury was told, Mrs Brooks had just been arrested.

Then, in another sequence filmed later that day, defendant Mark Hanna is depicted arriving at Chelsea Harbour. The prosecution claim that Mr Hanna is collecting the jiffy bag and laptop deposited by Mr Brooks. A few hours later the police would search the flat and seize a significant amount of evidence.

After Mr Hanna’s departure, a few hours pass. A contractor employed to work on Operation Blackhawk, Daryl Jorsling, is seen arriving in a Volkswagen Golf. He removes a black bin bag from the car, walks out of the frame of the CCTV camera and, the prosecution claims, deposits the bin bag next to the flats’ communal bins.

4) Court hears further text messages sent by those alleged to have been at the heart of Operation Blackhawk

After that alleged dropping off of the bin bag next to the Chelsea Harbour bins, Mr Jorsling then allegedly sent a text message to his colleague David Johnson. It read: “Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot.”

Operation Blackhawk might have been designed as a military-style operation, but its alleged participants were critical about the way it was conducted, according to the alleged text exchange obtained by the police. The court had already heard that Mr Johnson’s reply to Mr Jorsling read:”Ha! F****** amateurs. We should have done a DLB [dead letter box] or brush contact on the riverside!” But further messages, adduced for the first time, allege that Mr Johnson speculated that the following day would see the men engaged on “Another f****** magical mystery tour”.

William Geddes, Managing Director of security firm ICP, which was contracted to work on Operation Blackhawk, was also questioned in court by prosecutor Mark Bryant-Heron about text messages he received on the 18th July, the day the police were called in by Chelsea Harbour security. One asked him whether he could “talk ref Pizzagate”. Did this, asked the prosecutor, denote any wrongdoing, in his mind? “Not in the slightest”, replied Mr Geddes.

Another text told Mr Geddes that there were “Filth all over car park floor re Pizzagate”. The security boss confirmed that his interpretation was that the text was a reference to police activity.

The judge, Mr Justice Saunders, also questioned Mr Geddes about which colleague he’d been referring to in another text message, asking: “It’s Paul that’s the t***?”

5) What the cleaner saw

After CCTV footage of the alleged events of the 17 July 2011 was shown in court, the jury saw more footage filmed by the camera the following day.

In the footage, a Chelsea Harbour cleaner Fernando Nascimento is shown spotting the bag and – just out of shot – picking it up and driving off.

Mr Nascimento appeared in the court on Wednesday, giving evidence through an interpreter.

Under cross-examination, the cleaner told the jury that he opened the black bin bag and found two bags inside. In one of the bags, a jiffy bag. There were documents, a Sony Vaio laptop, an iPad, an iPod, and 7 DVDs, the court heard.

Neil Saunders, counsel for Charlie Brooks, suggested there had been two other items in the bag at various points in time. One was a copy of a publication called “Lesbian Lovers”. Asked if he had seen the publication in the bag, Mr Nascimento told the court his English was poor. “There wasn’t much writing on it”, quipped Neil Saunders in reply.

As for an envelope stuffed with £1,000 in cash that had been in the bag a week before, according to Mr Brooks’ lawyer, Mr Nascimento said he hadn’t seen it.

The cleaner told the court that he reported the find to his line manager, who in turn contacted Chelsea Harbour Facilities Manager Alan Ramsey. Mr Ramsey told the court he had been asked by Charlie Brooks about the bag on the afternoon of the 18th. Mr Brooks, he said, had told him there had been a “mix up” and that the bag had gone missing. Mr Ramsey decided to call in the police.

The defendants deny the charges. The trial continues.