14 Dec 2013

Nut bowls and banter: phone hacking trial week 7

The Old Bailey hears details of palace snacks and phone-hacking “banter”: Channel 4 News has the weekly phone-hacking trial round-up.

Phone hacking trial week seven.

A busy week at the phone hacking trial, as more revelations came to light. Here are five things we learned this week.

1) Ian Edmondson is “currently unfit” to stand trial

After 31 days of the ‘phone hacking trial, Thursday saw the defendants’ number fall by one. After receiving medical reports from doctors instructed by both the defence and the prosecution, Mr Justice Saunders ruled that Ian Edmondson, the former Newsdesk Editor of the News of the World, is “currently unfit” to stand trial. He will now be tried by a different jury at a later date.

2) Andy Coulson’s explanation for the “Do his phone” email

The court heard on Friday more about an email sent by Andy Coulson on May 20th 2006. The email instructed a colleague to “Do his phone”. Mr Coulson’s counsel Timothy Langdale QC, told the court that the prosecution case opened on the basis that “do his phone” meant “hack Calum Best’s ‘phone”. Mr Coulson’s case will be that this was not so, Mr Langdale told the court. Instead, he said, the email “referred to checking on the billing of another News of the World ‘phone due to a suspected leak.” The court was shown some of that alleged billing data, for the telephone of Rav Singh, a News of the World showbiz reporter. Calum Best told the court earlier in the trial that Mr Singh could have told him information about a story on the pregnancy of Mr Best’s former lover Lorna Hogan.

Mr Langdale also told the court that the police and CPS failed to disclose an “extremely important” email, which raised the possibility a mole inside the News of the World was leaking information relating to the Calum Best story, until the morning Calum Best gave evidence. Metropolitan Police officer Detective Constable John Massey, giving evidence, apologised to the court for not initially spotting the significance of the email, which was “missed” during a trawl of email data.

3) Clive Goodman’s finances

The court was taken through transaction data from the bank account of former News of the World Royal Editor Clive Goodman. The court was told of two significant payments following Mr Goodman’s jailing in 2007 — one of £70,000 and another of £84,000. It was suggested to the court by David Spens QC, for Goodman, that these were payments from News International to cover severance and to settle a claim Mr Goodman brought against the company for wrongful dismissal.

The jury was also told that Mr Goodman didn’t make any cash withdrawals from his account between 12th Jan 2004 and 8th June 2006.

The court was told that Mr Goodman “consented” to his bank giving the information to police and “entirely co-operative” in allowing the police more information about his finances.

4) The Queen’s nut bowls and more details about the royal family

Thursday saw the court read an email from Clive Goodman to Andy Coulson, in which the News of the World’s former Royal Editor claimed that a memo had been sent to palace police officers, telling them to “keep their sticky fingers off” bowls of nuts and savoury snacks left out at royal properties. The Queen, Mr Goodman alleged, was “furious” that when bowls of nuts were left out for her in the corridors of Buckingham Palace “police on patrol scoff the lot”.

Sir Michael Peat, former Principal Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales, was asked to give evidence on Thursday. Mark Bryant-Herron, prosecuting, asked Sir Michael about a piece of paper found in former private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notes, which contained Sir Michael’s name and the note: “affair?”

Mr Bryant-Herron asked Sir Michael if he had been having an affair in 2003. Sir Michael asked what the relevance of the question was, before the jury was sent out. On their return, they were told by Mr Justice Saunders that “Sir Michael does not want to answer that particular question” and that he had been given leave not to do so.

Sir Michael, and a number of other witnesses, were asked at length about internal royal ‘phone directories, which Mr Goodman is alleged to have bought. Sir Michael told the court that it was his “understanding” that there was a “long standing tradition” of royal household staff and palace police selling “green books” — those are, the court was told during the week, royal telephone directories containing sensitive information — to the press.

Details of one of those books were shown in court. As an example of the contents, the jury was shown an entry for the Queen’s “swan warden”, an Oxford University Professor.

There were other claims about the police’s interaction with the royal family. A retired Metropolitan Police officer from the SO14 Royalty Protection Branch, told the court that the Met recruited security guards to replace police officers following the death of Princess Margaret in 2002. And Michelle Light, head of telephony at Buckingham Palace, said in court that it was some six years after the seizure of telephone directories at Mr Goodman’s house in 2006 that she was informed by police of the discovery.

The court was told there was no counting of the royal telephone directories and it was often left up to recipients to dispose of them, though this was not monitored. This was, the court was told, even the case for the most sensitive “green book”.

5) Rebekah Brooks and Piers Morgan said to have exchanged “banter” about telephone hacking

On Wednesday, the court heard evidence via videolink from Los Angeles, from Ambi Sitham. The court was told that Ms Sitham is a life coach and author, but that she had previously been a media lawyer in Britain, engaged in defamation and privacy actions against newspapers. It was while she was living in London, the jury heard, that she attended a meal at a steakhouse with Rebekah Brooks — then editor of The Sun — and Piers Morgan — then editor of the Daily Mirror.

Ms Sitham told the court that the two editors exchanged banter and that “the way they looked at each other was pointed”. Mr Morgan, she alleged, told Mrs Brooks that he knew what was on the front page of her paper because he had been listening to her messages. Mrs Brooks, Ms Sitham told the court, retorted: “Been hacking into my ‘phone again, Piers?”

Ms Sitham told the court she had attempted to give her telephone number to Mrs Brooks at the end of the evening, only for Mr Morgan to warn her against it because “she’ll tap your phone”, or words to that effect.”

Clare Sibson, for Rebekah Brooks, asked Ms Sitham if she had “fictionalised” any of her account. “Absolutely not” replied Ms Sitham.

Ms Brooks and Mr Coulson are among others standing trial on a range of charges including conspiracy to intercept voicemails and conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office.

Ms Brooks denies charges of conspiracy to hack phones, perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Mr Coulson denies charges of conspiracy to hack phones and conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Mr Goodman denies charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

The trial continues.