‘Lovely fluffy side’ won the day in long ordeal
Brooks’s genius lies in her likeability, which helped a jury stifle its envy of the rich
Published 29/06/2014 | 02:30
Mostly, I'm a fan of juries. They sit, day in, day out, in a wooden box, their lives disrupted, castigated if they nod off during the boring bits, told to keep their mouths shut even with their nearest and dearest, and these days given horrible warnings against trying to find out a bit more on the internet.
Oh, yes, and they have to listen to lawyers who are paid more per hour than they make on jury service in a week. They try to be fair, even if sometimes, as with Rebekah Brooks - the former CEO of News International who was on trial with six ex-colleagues on phone hacking and other charges - they have to stifle understandable envy of the rich. If you're on the poverty line, it must be quite hard to forgive someone for flying to Venice for lunch.
Having delivered their verdicts last week, I expect some of them fled to their computers to see how the world viewed their finding Brooks and four others not guilty. If amid all the verbiage they read that Jonathan Laidlaw QC is rumoured to have been given a retainer of half-a-million quid for taking on Brooks's defence, and that the legal costs are estimated to have run to somewhere in the region of £50m (€62m), they might well have looked at their meagre earnings for eight months in court and uttered a few expletives.
Andy Coulson - who resigned from his editorship of the News of the World in 2007 when his royal editor, Clive Goodman, was found guilty of phone-hacking and who subsequently became David Cameron's communications guru - did not have his legal bills paid for by Murdoch. He had to fund his costs by selling his house. Old Rup paid the legal bill for the five still in his employ when they were charged. And he hired the best lawyers on the block.
I hope the jury are at ease with their decisions. Having followed the case closely, I thought it was open-and-shut and they were spot-on. The Guardian - which broke the hacking story years ago - was clearly distraught at the verdict, but its editor and minions hate Brooks almost as much as they hate Murdoch and they were guilty of wishful thinking. While Murdoch's papers led triumphantly with pictures of Brooks and the not-guilty verdict, The Guardian's headline was "Coulson: the criminal who had Cameron's confidence".
In truth, there was plenty of evidence to sink Coulson and none to incriminate Brooks. And in her 13 days of tough questioning she was convincing as an obsessive workaholic with exceptional talent who had paid an enormous price for her success, including being misogynistically loathed as a "wicked witch".
"If what you saw was a mask," Laidlaw told the jury, "Mrs Brooks must be a witch with truly supernatural powers. No human mask could withstand that amount of scrutiny without cracking."
Brooks - an only child whose father absconded early on - was so determined to be a journalist that she started making the tea and running errands at the local paper when she was 14. Even then she was manipulative. She could always get people to do what she wanted, even if they didn't like her, said a friend from her teens.
"She's got her lovely fluffy side and her angry side."
It was that combination of people-pleasing and ruthlessness that saw her rise from being a secretary on the News of the World when she was 20 to being its editor at 31, by which time she had become an honorary member of Murdoch's family. She wasn't a looker, but she was attractive and she cultivated a huge mass of red hair to make herself memorable. She liked fun too, marrying two loveable scamps who were also useful: the actor Ross Kemp was close to New Labour and Charlie Brooks was a friend of Cameron's.
The lovely fluffy side was in evidence throughout her long court ordeal. Old Bailey staff adored the woman who learned all their names and treated them as friends.
It's no surprise that she became close to the powerful, for Brooks understands that everyone needs to be liked and to believe they're being liked for themselves: she has a genius for intimacy. She had no interest in politics, just in power, but her magic was to make the powerful and their spouses feel she truly cared about them. In her heyday she was probably the most influential woman in the United Kingdom.
What now for the "Titan Temptress"? For what it's worth, my guess is she and Murdoch are discussing that very question. She hasn't gone away, you know.