Friday 24 October 2014

Mother of murdered Sarah Payne tells court News of the World 'force for good'

Published 11/04/2014 | 13:02

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey in London, as the phone hacking trial continues. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 25, 2014. See PA story COURTS Hacking. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey in London

THE mother of murdered Sarah Payne gave evidence in the hacking trial today and said the News of the World had been a "force for good".

Sara Payne told how former editor Rebekah Brooks and retired managing director Stuart Kuttner had lent their personal support during the search for her daughter and the long-running campaign for Sarah's Law that followed.

With the aid of a walking stick, Mrs Payne stepped up with difficulty into the witness box as Brooks and Kuttner smiled at her in the dock.

She told jurors: "It's easy to forget in these dark times the NotW has often been a force for good and it has something to do with the people who worked on it."

She added: "I do not pretend they are perfect or always got things right."

But she told jurors that Kuttner was a "gentleman" and Brooks was "really sweet".

On Brooks, she said: "She was really sweet natured. She had a certain directness about her. She would like to speak directly about things."

She told how they worked "as a team" on Sarah's Law, sharing their research.

Brooks was "always in the foreground" of the campaign, day and night.

She said: "I did not sleep. I could call at two o'clock in the morning and she would pick up the phone."

Mrs Payne, who was called by Kuttner's legal team as a character witness, said: "Stuart is a gentleman. He is everything my parents taught me about being a gentleman and having manners. He is a good guy. He has always been there to listen."

She said he helped steer her through the newspaper industry and meeting politicians as part of the campaign.

The NotW team always ensured that her other children were looked after during the campaign, she said.

Mrs Payne, who wrote a article for the last NotW edition, described being in the newsroom during the last week in 2011.

"I spent some time in the newsroom and they were very, very down about stories going on in the media around the world. I felt they were almost mourning something."

She had a big picture of Sarah Payne brought in to remind them of "what they had achieved".

Brooks, 45 and Kuttner, 74 and all their co-defendants deny the charges against them.

Kuttner's legal team also called former director of the Press Complaints Commission Lord Black as a character witness.

He told the court how Kuttner was a man he turned to for help during his time in the role between 1993 and 2003 and he "never did let me down".

After the Omagh bombing, he said Kuttner and the NotW "led the way" for the media to leave the scene, allowing the community to "grieve and to heal".

He acted the same after the Dunblane tragedy, he said.

He also helped "deliver real change" in the media in the wake of the Princess of Wales's death in 1997, Lord Black said.

On his personal relationship with Kuttner, Lord Black said: "I have known Stuart since 1996. He is one of these people I have become a very good friend with. He was a very dear friend during that time. After I left in 2003 we kept in touch and do to this day.

"From a professional point of view he is a reporters' reporter. He is intrepid in the pursuit of a story. He is always immensely professional and he would never play fast and loose with the rules with these stories.

"He was somebody who did not just talk about the code and ethics, he believed in them. They were in his DNA."

He added: "As a friend I have always found him to be a man of the greatest integrity. A caring and loving family man and I'm very proud to have him as a friend."

Later, Kuttner denied holding back a possible lead in the disappearance of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire hacked into Milly's phone for the NotW after she went missing in 2002, the court heard.

Kuttner then alerted police to a voicemail message suggesting Milly may be alive, but only after journalists had been dispatched to Telford in an attempt to track her down, prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said.

Cross-examining, Mr Edis asked Kuttner: "How did you think the NotW had come by the message?"

Kuttner said: "I have no recollection."

On the time it took to alert police, the witness said: "I saw in the weeks following the disappearance of Sarah Payne the effect of a missing child on a family so if the suggestion being made about me is I sat on, held, delayed passing on information, I could not refute that more strongly."

Mr Edis pressed: "Somebody did, it was not you?"

Kuttner replied: "I would no more do that than fly to the dark side of the moon."

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