Tuesday 23 December 2014

Ruth Dudley Edwards: How NOTW became the red-top story of the year

From Sven-Goran Eriksson's sex life to the tragedy of Millie Dowler, the scandal has gripped us all, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published 10/11/2013 | 01:00

Hacking trial: Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie at the Old Bailey in London last Thursday on various charges related to hacking, illegal payments to officials and hindering police investigations
Hacking trial: Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie at the Old Bailey in London last Thursday on various charges related to hacking, illegal payments to officials and hindering police investigations

Say what you like about Rebekah Brooks, and people do, she was an immensely industrious woman in both her professional and private life.

According to the prosecution at the News of the World (NOTW) hacking trial, in April 2002, when she was editor, she was constantly in touch with the office from a seven-star hotel in Dubai where she was with her long-time fiancee, the actor Ross Kemp, on a holiday said to have been arranged by her deputy (and, we are told, lover), Andy Coulson.

A witness who spent a few evenings with the couple claimed she was on the phone 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the time, and that she'd explained "it was to do with the missing Surrey schoolgirl". This was the unfortunate 13-year-old Millie Dowler, who had been abducted the previous month and – we would learn years later – had been murdered by a serial killer.

It is alleged that Brooks and Coulson had sanctioned the hacking of her phone and that Stuart Kuttner, the managing editor, had told Surrey police that the NOTW had accessed Millie's voicemails. It's one of the odd aspects of this case that although hacking was a criminal offence, the police did nothing about it then, yet more than a decade later, after the furore caused by the Leveson Inquiry, Kuttner is now in the dock along with several colleagues.

If the Millie Dowler evidence is about a tragedy, the alleged perversion of justice by Charlie and Rebekah Brooks and Mark Hanna, News International's head of security, reads like a farce. The prosecution say that on the day police were interviewing Brooks, her husband removed a laptop and a Jiffy bag from their Oxfordshire home and was seen on security cameras hiding them behind bins in the car park below their Chelsea apartment.

Thirty minutes later, Hanna and a colleague collected them and took them to Wapping HQ, from which a bin bag and other items were picked up that evening by two other security guards, one of whom stashed various items back behind the Chelsea bins as the other loitered with pizza boxes pretending to be a delivery man. Then – drawing on a call sign from Where Eagles Dare and a coded message about a bomb from a Tom Clancy novel – one guard texted "Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken's in the pot", and the other replied: "Ha, f****** amateurs. We should have done a DLB [dead letter box] or brush contact on the riverside." In the event, a cleaner found the material behind the bins the next day and told the police before Charlie Brooks and guards arrived to pick it up.

Then there was the evidence concerning the alleged hacking of the phone of Home Secretary David Blunkett's mistress Kimberley Quinn: a NOTW internal memo referred to them as Noddy and Big Ears. Another busy woman, Mrs Quinn, the highly successful publisher of The Spectator, managed during their three-year affair to give birth to a son who turned out to be Blunkett's and become pregnant with another by her husband.

One would have to be callous not to sympathise with Blunkett – who was devastated when ditched – at having heart-broken messages read out in court, but no one is likely to have the same compassion for Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former England football manager, also allegedly hacked. Eriksson, whose appetite for women and money is notorious, has described cheerily in his new autobiography, Sven: My Story, how he stole Italian Nancy Dell'Ollio from her husband, how he later wished he could give her back, his affair with fellow Swede Ulrika Johnsson, whom he said craved publicity and was regarded by Nancy as a prostitute, and his love for Football Association secretary Faria Alam, who when the tabloids ran with their affair gave an exclusive to the NOTW for £300,000 (€360,000).

Nancy, meanwhile, has been taking him for everything she can get and Ulrika has been sharing with the press the information that having sex with Eriksson resembled an Ikea instruction booklet. Sven's lady friends seem to be as amoral and ghastly as he is.

Rupert Murdoch thought he had drawn a line under the scandal when he closed the NOTW and handed over records to the police in what his staff thought was a great betrayal. Brooks failed to save her career, but she's a fighter and the other seven defendants are so far holding firm. There will be months more of this and oceans of mud thrown by expensive lawyers. Celebrities, politicians, police, newspaper executives and many others are in the firing line. The proceedings are shocking and hardly elevating, but there's no denying that these real-life stories of the world of Fleet Street are as fascinating as anything the tabloids ever dreamed of.

ruthdudleyedwards.com @RuthDE

Sunday Independent

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