11 Jan 2014

Shock and silverware: phone hacking trial week 9

The prosecution case moved onto allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice as the jury returned for the new year. Here are five details that came to light in the first week back.

Charlie and Rebekah Brooks (Getty)

1) Intimate details of Rebekah Brooks’s life as News International CEO

Count 6 on the indictment concerns an alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks and her then-Personal Assistant Cheryl Carter.

This meant the court this week heard extensive detail about Mrs Brooks and her lifestyle from two of the people with whom she spent most of her time: her News International personal assistants.

The court heard that Mrs Brooks’ PAs “effectively ran her life for her”. During cross-examination of former personal assistant Deborah Keegan by Trevor Burke – QC for Mrs Brooks’ other long-standing personal assistant, Cheryl Carter – the jury heard that the personal assistants would: sort out Mrs Brooks’ mortgages, holidays and shopping; bring her bottles of water and return clothes she had bought online; and withdraw cash for her from the cash machine.

Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for Mrs Brooks, put it to Deborah Keegan that it was “not possible” for his client “to have a personal life”. Mrs Keegan agreed. Mrs Keegan also agreed with his suggestion that his client was “bad-tempered” but could show great concern for her employees.

The court also heard an assessment of Mrs Brooks’ abilities from Susan Panuccio, former News International Chief Financial Officer. Ms Panuccio agreed with Mr Laidlaw that his client was “inexperienced” in many aspects of being a CEO, but that the company “met financial targets” under Mrs Brooks’ leadership.

2) Witness ‘met defendant five or six times’

Mrs Keegan revealed under questioning from prosecutor Andrew Edis QC, that she had met the defendant Cheryl Carter “five or six times” since writing her witness statement.

The meetings had, Mrs Keegan told the court, been given “the green light” by her employers at News UK – successor company to News International – and that Sally Brook, a Sun journalist, had attended some of the occasions.

Mrs Keegan insisted the purpose of these meetings was to see a friend who was “like family”, and denied having discussed the case with Mrs Carter.

3) Brooks’s security team had concerns about media and police interest

Mr Edis also questioned Mrs Keegan about an email, into which she was copied, from defendant and former News International security boss Mark Hanna to Rebekah Brooks.

It was sent at 7:45pm on the evening after allegations first appeared in the Guardian newspaper that the News of the World had hacked the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

The jury heard that in the email, Mr Hanna wrote that he and Charlie Brooks agreed that the couple should stay that night at their accommodation in Chelsea.

There would be in place “the same process as before” with a “team” to notify Mr Hanna “if they see the media around the area”.

“If police concern, we put in place the previous plan of entry and exit teams.”

Mrs Keegan was asked what she thought “police concern” meant. She replied that she personally would have been focused on the media interest, rather than any concerns about police.

4) Brooks ‘shocked’ by manner of her departure from News International

The jury heard testimony from Jane Viner, the facilities manager for News International, about Mrs Brooks’ departure from the company following her resignation as CEO. After writing to staff, Mrs Brooks went to the office of Will Lewis, then-General Manager of News International.

Mrs Brooks was then escorted from the site by Ms Viner, fellow NI executive Paul Cheeseborough, and a security guard. Asked by Mrs Brooks’ counsel Jonathan Laidlaw QC whether his client looked “shocked by what had occurred”, Ms Viner agreed, saying that Mrs Brooks was “quite upset, subdued and upset”.

Ms Viner said she felt “uncomfortable” while escorting Mrs Brooks from the site.

5) Charles Brooks bought ‘the Times silver’

Rebekah Brooks’ husband Charlie is a respected racehorse trainer, who has achieved success and wealth independently of his wife.

But it is alleged that Mrs Brooks’ News International personal assistants routinely helped him with his affairs and that he received property from the company.

Under cross-examination by Cheryl Carter’s barrister, Trevor Burke QC, it was put to Rebekah Brooks’ PA Deborah Keenan that they would “deal with… Charlie, Charlie’s banking”.

Mr Burke read an email between two of Mrs Brooks’ personal assistants asking about “a receipt for Charlie’s hotel you booked”. Even Mr Brooks’ shotgun licences and contracts could be found in a “strictly private” box in the office of his wife’s personal assistants.

The apparent benefits of being married to the boss of News International did not end there, it was alleged. Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for Mrs Brooks, put it to Mrs Keegan that it was not just Rebekah who was provided with News International IT equipment.

“Charlie Brooks was also provided with phones, laptops, iPads?” Mrs Keegan agreed.

When asked to respond to a suggestion from Mr Laidlaw that Mr Brooks was not particularly good at managing phones and often lost them, Mrs Keegan said “he sometimes found them again, but yes.”

The jury also heard evidence from News International archivist Nicholas Mays, that when News International downsized its offices in Wapping, it was Charlie who bought “the Times silver” from the company’s former executive dining room.

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