SENIOR executives at Rupert Murdoch's News International (NI) considered giving publicist Max Clifford a £200,000 (€240,000) annual contract in the expectation that he would halt a civil phone-hacking damages claim, London's Old Bailey has heard.
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of NI, took part in the discussions in 2010 over how to cope with emerging lawsuits against the 'News of the World' (NOTW) from alleged victims of voicemail interception and concerns that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire would be ordered to name people he had dealt with at the now defunct newspaper.
A jury heard that Mrs Brooks had concerns about the potential deal with Mr Clifford because it might look like the company was trying to buy the PR man's silence.
Notes from a meeting between NI managers and lawyers in January 2010 said that Mrs Brooks had persuaded Mr Clifford to agree to a £200,000 deal to "represent 'The Sun'/do business with 'The Sun'" and that if it was put in writing he would "call off the lawyers".
It was suggested that Mrs Brooks could even meet the publicist with the money.
A memo of the discussion, which was read to jurors by prosecutor Andrew Edis QC, said: "We either get something in writing or she could physically turn up with the cash to see him."
The trial was told there was a time pressure to conclude the deal before Mulcaire, who had been jailed in 2007 in relation to hacking the voicemails of members of the royal household, was compelled to disclose the identities of journalists employed by NI subsidiary News Group Newspapers (NGN), who were allegedly involved in eavesdropping.
Mulcaire has pleaded guilty to hacking-related charges at an earlier stage of the current proceedings.
The internal NI memo continued: "You have to think about what is worse – her doing a deal with Max, which will be perceived as a cover-up, or indemnifying Mulcaire so that he doesn't say anything about NGN.
"(Mulcaire) could say anything and he could say anybody ... Brooks said it would look terrible if seen to be 'buying off Max'."
In a later email read to the hacking trial, Mrs Brooks said she was in the "throes of a settlement" with "slippery fish" Mr Clifford and appeared keen to avoid any further disagreement with the PR man.
The court heard that a month after the January 2010 meeting, Mulcaire was ordered by a judge to divulge the names of those who he said had asked him to hack phones. Following this, Mr Clifford made a settlement "privately" with Mrs Brooks, which included £200,000 to cover legal costs.
Detective Constable Richard Fitzgerald told the court that he had examined billing data from Mulcaire's phone, two lines at the NOTW and the home phone number of former NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman, who has denied conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. The data showed that Mulcaire made 1,450 calls to 87 different voicemails in a six-month period between 2005 and 2006.
Mrs Brooks and six co-defendants deny all the charges. (© Independent News Services)