25 Jan 2014

Computers in bags and texting – phone hacking trial week 11

Almost 50 days in to the “trial of the era”, here are five details we learned this week.

Computers in bags and texting - phone hacking trial week 11

1) The Sun’s decision to dump Labour went right to James Murdoch

It was an editorial which was seen by many political commentators at the time as a major blow for Gordon Brown’s changes of staying in No.10 Downing Street. On the eve of his big speech to the Labour party conference in September 2009, the Sun published a front page editorial headlined “Labour’s Lost It”, in which the paper announced its decision to switch political allegiance from Labour to David Cameron’s Conservative party. Now we know that approval for that decision was given by James Murdoch, then boss of News Corporation in Europe and Asia.

The jury heard that police officers found a draft of that Sun editorial on an Apple laptop allegedly found behind a rubbish bin the day before Ms Brooks’s arrest in July 2011. It was one of four News International documents and was entitled “Draft editorial for approval of JRM”. The initials JRM, the jury was told, referred to James Murdoch.

2) Computers allegedly hidden behind the bins at Thames Quay flat were for the sole use of Charlie Brooks, according to the defence lawyers of Mr and Ms Brooks

That Apple laptop, containing the draft Sun editorial, was one of three computer devices found in a bag hidden behind the bins in the car park of the Brooks’s London flat. Defence teams for Rebekah Brooks and her husband have suggested to the court that these computers were for the sole use of Charlie Brooks.

In addition to the Sun editorial, the court heard about three other internal News International documents on that laptop. Under cross-examination, Detective Sergeant Hayley Broom stated the Apple laptop had included a three-year budget for News International’s newspapers and a speech Ms Brooks gave to a media conference in 2010. It also contained part of a manuscript for a novel being written by Charlie Brooks, as well as several apps related to football and horse racing.

Charlie Brooks’s lawyer, Neil Saunders, also volunteered to the court that another of the laptops found, a Sony Vaio, included 8,000 emails – not one of these, he said, had been sent by Ms Brooks. It also included “approximately 25 images of female nudity” including “images of a sexual nature”.

3) Ms Brooks viewed the Milly Dowler revelations as a ‘Guardian/BBC/Old Labour hit’ against News International

On 5 July 2011, the rumbling phone hacking scandal erupted with a front page story in the Guardian that claimed police were investigating the possibility that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s mobile phone had been hacked following her disappearance in 2002. Rebekah Brooks – editor of the News of the World at the time of Milly Dowler’s disappearance – was CEO of News International at the time the Guardian published its story, making her responsible for several media and publishing outlets including the Sun, the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times.

The Times followed up the Guardian’s article with a story by Sean O’Neill. This prompted an email from Ms Brooks to Mr O’Neill’s boss, then-Times editor James Harding. It read: “Can you find out from Sean how he knows page one/three are true. We have zero visibility on the veracity of these allegations… Our suspicion is Dowler numbers and address were in Mulcaire’s book but no evidence of actual hacking, and the Guardian have mixed up the Surrey police phone issues at the tie [sic] and put two things together. But we just don’t know.”

Ms Brooks wanted to know who had given Mr O’Neill “the nod” on the story; in other words, his source. She also described the Milly Dowler allegations as a “proper Guardian/BBC/old Labour hit.” Ironically, Mr Harding is now Director of BBC News and Current Affairs.

4) A police officer texted a Guardian journalist with details of arrests in the Weeting investigation

Relationships between the police and journalists have come under scrutiny in the months and years since Guardian journalist Amelia Hill and her colleague Nick Davies wrote their front page exclusive on the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. On Thursday, the jury got to hear how Ms Hill too, allegedly benefitted from tip-offs from inside an active police investigation.

In August 2011, the Metropolitan Police set up Operation Kilo to investigate leaks to the media. The investigation was prompted, the court was told, by a complaint from Andy Coulson that the Guardian had written about his impending arrest on 7 July 2011 – the evening before it happened.

Detective Superintendent Mark Mitchell of the Metropolitan Police anti-corruption command, who headed up Operation Kilo, confirmed the letter specifically named Amelia Hill as a journalist and alleged that she was publishing information before it was officially made public.

Attention focused on a police officer DC Peter Cripps, who was arrested. On 7 July 2011, the court was told, Ms Hill and DC Cripps had exchanged 17 text messages and spoken to each other in two telephone calls, lasting a total of seventeen and a half minutes. There had also been messages exchanged between Ms Hill and DC Cripps prior to the publication of the Milly Dowler story on 4 July 2011, the court heard.

DS Mitchell confirmed there was no evidence financial inducement paid to DC Cripps by the Guardian and that the CPS had therefore taken the decision not to prosecute either Ms Hill or DC Cripps, who has now retired from the Metropolitan Police.

5) News International security boss Mark Hanna “burned stuff” in his garden

As the last ever edition of the News of the World went to print on the evening of Saturday 9 July, the jury heard that two of News International’s security staff went out drinking in a pub near the paper’s Wapping headquarters. Mark Hanna – who is alleged to have conspired to pervert the course of justice with Mr and Ms Brooks – drank a whole bottle of wine that night, according to Robert Hernandez, who was with him. Under cross-examination from William Clegg QC, for Mark Hanna, Mr Hernandez told the jury that he had consumed about four pints of ordinary strength lager.

As the two men drank, Mr Hernandez said, they had talked about the closure of the paper. Mr Hanna said “how proud he was” to work for News International, according to his drinking partner. Under cross-examination from prosecutor Andrew Edis QC, Mr Hernandez told the court that they had discussed Rebekah Brooks – who Mr Hanna was guarding at the time.

Then, Mr Hernandez said, Mr Hanna “mentioned one time that he dug a hole in his garden and burned stuff”. “I asked him if it was papers, and he did not reply. He just looked at me and didn’t reply and just changed the conversation.” “For all I know, it could have been bank statements.”

The trial continues. The defendants deny the charges against them.