Sunday 22 October 2017

Bugging Storm: Brooks and husband engaged in major cover-up, trial told

Rebekah Brooks, with husband and co-accused Charlie, outside the Old Bailey, London, yesterday
Rebekah Brooks, with husband and co-accused Charlie, outside the Old Bailey, London, yesterday
Former 'News of the World' editor Andy Coulson, who faces the same charges as Mr and Mrs Brooks, also outside court

Sam Marsden and Martin Evans

Rebekah Brooks sought to destroy emails, remove boxes of notebooks and hide computers from the police as the phone-hacking "firestorm" engulfed the 'News of the World' (NOTW), a court was told.

The former News International chief executive is accused of staging a cover-up with her racehorse trainer husband, her personal assistant and her security team to stop detectives investigating her alleged role in the scandal from finding potentially damaging evidence.

Mrs Brooks (45) arranged for seven large boxes of her notebooks from 1995 to 2007 held in her company's archives to be "spirited" away on the day after NOTW's closure was announced in July 2011, the jury was told.

Then nine days later, when she was arrested, she allegedly had computers removed from her two homes just hours before police searched the properties.

Security guards who had been appointed to protect her, under an operation codenamed Blackhawk, returned several laptops that evening under the pretext of delivering pizzas, the court heard.

The items were hidden in a large black bin bag and placed behind bins in the underground car park of Mrs Brooks's flat in London's Chelsea Harbour, but before being retrieved they were discovered by a cleaner and handed in to the police, it was claimed.

Andrew Edis, prosecuting, alleged that there was a concerted conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by hiding material from detectives in the wake of the "media firestorm" that followed the revelation that the NOTW had hacked Milly Dowler's phone.

Mr Edis told the Old Bailey in London: "You can imagine the extremely anxious, if not panic-stricken, approach to this development that must have been going on at the News of the World and News International."

Mr Edis said that Mrs Brooks knew by the summer of 2011 that she was likely to be arrested and that detectives would then have powers to search her London apartment and country house in Oxfordshire.

He added: "Arrangements were made to remove material from both these addresses with a view to preventing material coming into the possession of the police."

At midday on July 17, 2011, as Mrs Brooks was being arrested and read her rights at Lewisham police station in south London, her husband, Charlie (50) was seen carrying a Jiffy bag and a laptop out of their Chelsea flat.

MISCONDUCT

It was not until several hours later that police arrived to search the property, seizing various items of equipment. Officers also examined the News International chief executive's Cotswolds home, but found no computers there.

Mr Edis said no evidence of phone hacking or any other wrong-doing was found on the computers recovered by police from the black bin bag found by the cleaner in the car park.

However, he alleged that Mrs Brooks had been trying to conceal "significant" evidence from detectives, adding: "You would only do it for a real purpose. Otherwise you are just attracting suspicion to yourself for no reason at all.

"The only rational explanation for it was that it was designed to hide material so that the police wouldn't get it."

Mrs Brooks had earlier ordered the destruction of emails in News International's archive covering her entire period as editor of the 'Sun' and NOTW, the court heard.

The company had planned to wipe messages dating from before December 2007 as part of a review of its data retention policies, but she instructed that there should be a "clean sweep" to delete all emails up until January 2010.

The jury were shown emails Mrs Brooks sent in 2010 to senior executives at News International, discussing the email deletion policy.

Mr Edis said: "We suggest that there is some evidence that Mrs Brooks was keen to get rid of material that related to her activities when she was editor, first of the 'News of the World', then of the 'Sun'."

The court also heard that Mrs Brooks discussed with James Murdoch, News International's chairman, how she could protect her position.

She sent him an email on July 8, 2011, in which she suggested ways of letting News International executive chairman Les Hinton and NOTW editor Colin Myler, take some of the blame. She wrote: "A Les situation could play well into this, even if it was at a later date – ie result of report when published would slam Les, Colin etc and it will vindicate my position (or not)."

The prosecution finished its three-and-a-half-day opening statement yesterday.

Mrs Brooks is accused of conspiracy to intercept voicemails, conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She is standing trial alongside Andy Coulson (45), of Preston, Kent, – the ex-NOTW editor who later became director of communications to UK Prime Minister David Cameron – and six other people.

All the defendants deny the charges against them.

The trial was also told how Mr Coulson's phone was hacked by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for the NOTW. The trial continues.

(©Daily Telegraph, London)

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