Allegations about the removal of notebooks and computers, plus evidence of the alleged hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone: our round-up of the week’s events at the Old Bailey.
Today marked the fourth and final day of the prosecution’s opening statement. Andrew Edis QC focused on events alleged to have occurred in the “media firestorm” surrounding the closure of the News of the World.
The first, an alleged conspiracy to remove seven boxes of notebooks from the News International archives. Cheryl Carter, Ms Brooks’s PA, is alleged to have visited the News International archives in Enfield, removed the boxes and then taken them to her home. To this day, they have not been found.
The second, an alleged operation involving Ms Brooks, her husband Charlie, News International’s security boss Mark Hanna and others, to hide computers and correspondence from police searching the Brooks’s Oxfordshire home. The alleged plot nearly worked, leading two alleged conspirators, neither of whom can be named for legal reasons, to send congratulatory text messages to each other.
One, referencing the 1968 Richard Burton film Where Eagles Dare, read: “Broadsword to Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot.” The other described the police as “amateurs”. But according to the prosecution, the plan came unstuck when a cleaner at the Brooks’s gated London apartment block found a bin bag containing the evidence stashed behind a bin.
Mr Coulson’s lawyer, Timothy Langdale QC, also took the opportunity to make some opening remarks. He said his client “wishes he’d made some different decisions” and said that “something went badly wrong at the News of the World” while Mr Coulson was editor.
He called on the jury to remember they would be looking at evidence “with the benefit of hindsight” and said that journalists working under Mr Coulson used to “overemphasise the importance of their sources” meaning that the editor would take what they said “with a hefty pinch of salt”.
Then the court heard the opening hour or so of evidence – about the police’s investigation into the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. There will be plenty more for the jury to hear, in a section of the trial expected to last nearly five months.
It was the incident of alleged phone hacking that horrified the public more than any other – the hacking of murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s voicemail. Day seven saw the jury hear more evidence about it, including some serious questions for Surrey Police.
The force’s head of communications at the time, Sarah McGregor, was cross-examined about what she knew. She told the court that, time and again, News of the World journalists had told her that the paper had accessed Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages.
The court was shown an email to Ms McGregor from Stuart Kuttner, the News of the World’s managing editor at the time, in which he allegedly stated that the paper had offered Surrey Police a tape recording of Milly Dowler’s voicemail. The former News Editor Nevile Thurlbeck, she said, had told a colleague that the paper had obtained Milly’s mobile and pin numbers from school children. And, she claimed, another News of the World journalist had even played a recording of the message over the phone to her.
Yet, when asked by Rebekah Brooks’s QC whether at the time any police officer in Surrey had suggested the alleged hacking should be investigated further, Ms McGregor’s answer was: “No, they did not.”
The court also heard that Surrey Police changed their mind about a decision not to accept the News of the World’s offer of a reward for information on Milly’s whereabouts following an email in which Stuart Kuttner said he was “not happy”.
The jury also heard from a man called William Hennessey, who had been on holiday in Dubai at the same time as Rebekah Brooks – a time when the prosecution alleges she was in close contact with her staff discussing the Milly Dowler investigation.
Mr Hennessey told the jury that he had been for drinks with Mrs Brooks and her then-husband Ross Kemp. He said that Brooks had been on the phone “50-60 per cent of the time” that he had been there and that she said she had been talking to her office about “the murdered Surrey schoolgirl”.
Ms Brooks’s counsel told the court that she didn’t recall spending as much time with Mr Hennessey as he claimed he had.
Today, the court heard more evidence about the alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone, starting with the evidence of another person who claimed to spent time with Mrs Brooks and her then-husband while on holiday. Dean Keyworth also told the court that he has been a friend of Andy Coulson for over twenty years.
Mr Keyworth told the court that Mrs Brooks was “on the phone quite a bit back to the office” but that he wasn’t sure what the conversations were about.
He was then asked about Mr Coulson. Mr Keyworth described him as “a very loyal friend… very ambitious… very self-deprecating” and said the former News of the World editor had “done a lot of work for children’s territories”.
The jury also heard from Robert Kellaway, the reporter whose byline appeared on a story about Milly Dowler which contained lengthy extracts from Milly Dowler’s voicemails. He claimed to have had nothing to do with the story and said that his name might have appeared on it as the result of “a simple production error” or as a “professional favour”.
The trial then moved on to evidence about the alleged hacking of phones belonging to Sven-Goran Eriksson. The court heard that Glenn Mulcaire had intercepted and recorded Mr Eriksson’s mobile phone voicemail messages.
The jury filed into Court 12 of the Old Bailey for the last of the week’s hearings. They began by hearing more about the hacking of Sven-Goran Eriksson and Faria Alam.
In a written statement, Ms Alam explained how she had entered a relationship with Mr Eriksson several years ago, which was exposed by the News of the World in 2004. Ms Alam alleged that Colin Gibson, a senior FA executive at the time, became “abusive” when she initially “refused” to provide her story to the News of the World.
She said she had never given anyone permission to access her voicemail messages. Ms Alam also revealed that she eventually received £150,000 to tell her story in the News of the World, and an additional £150,000 to speak to the Mail on Sunday about the affair.
Another allegation of hacking concerned the former Fire Brigade Union chief Andy Gilchrist. Mr Gilchrist had an affair with Tracey Holland in 1998. The prosecution read out personal information about the pair – found, it was claimed, during a search of premises associated with NoW private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
The court also heard cross examination of Guy Patrick, a reporter from the Sun. He told the court that he had been in contact with Rebekah Brooks, the then newly-installed Sun editor, about the story. Mr Patrick, who still works for the Sun, answered “yes” when asked whether the editor – Ms Brooks at the time – would have been involved in a decision to pay Ms Holland £25,000 to tell her story to the paper.
The afternoon focused on the News of the World’s exposure of former home secretary David Blunkett’s affair with a married woman in 2004. The jury heard that recordings of voicemail messages left by Mr Blunkett on Kimberley Quinn’s answerphone were found in a safe in the office of the News of the World’s then legal manager Tom Crone. The recordings were decsribed in court as “deeply personal and intrusive” and included emotional messgaes from Mr Blunkett at a point when Mrs Quinn was ending their relationship. In one recording he told her she was “breaking my heart”.
And then the court heard an extrordinary secret audio recording, not one made by an employee of News International but by Mr Blunkett himself. It contained a record of a meeting between the then home secretary and Andy Coulson, in which the News of the World editor told Mr Blunkett that the paper would be exposing his affair.
Mr Coulson would only tell him that the story was “based on extremely reliable sources”. He added: “What I will tell you is that I am certainly very confident of the information… My job is to make sure that I sift out the nonsense from the accurate information and either I do my job well or I don’t do my job well. I believe the story to be true.”
“You are asking me to say, ‘Yes, I’m having a relationship with a married woman’?” asks Mr Blunkett later in the recording. “Yes,” says Coulson. But Mr Blunkett would not admit it and the News of the World did publish the story, in August 2004.