Tuesday 16 January 2018

Phone-hacking trial told of 'risky operation' to hide Rebekah Brooks material

Ian Burrell, James Cusick

A News International security team used codenames including "Broadsword", "Danny Boy" and "Blackhawk1" in an operation to take material from the homes of Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie and hide it from police, a court heard today.

On the fourth day of evidence in the hacking trial at the Old Bailey, the jury was told that the "quite complicated and quite risky operation" had been thwarted when a cleaner at the Brooks's London apartment complex found the bin bag of material stashed near the waste bins. He handed it to his manager, who called police.

The NI security team operated according to instructions from Mark Hanna, the company's head of security, and Charlie Brooks, with one posing as a pizza delivery man to avoid suspicion from the police, the court heard. When the material was delivered, a text message was sent saying: "Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot."

Andrew Edis QC, chief counsel for the prosecution, informed the jury that the expression "Broadsword calling Danny Boy" was taken from a line spoken by the actor Richard Burton in the film "Where Eagles Dare". "It's this field agent played by Richard Burton, fighting the Nazis in Germany," he said.

Mr Edis then revealed another text in which it was suggested that the work for the operation be logged on the invoice as "pizza delivery". The prosecutor told the jury: "Of course you cannot log any hours to 'perverting the course of justice', you have to say it's something else don't you?"

The prosecution case was based on CCTV images, and detailed telephone data including text messages sent between those allegedly involved. Postmarks on letters found in the bin bag showed that material had been collected from the Brooks's country home in Oxfordshire. Although nothing incriminating was found among the material, Mr Edis said he merely sought to prove that the activity was designed to hinder police searches of the couple's properties.

He said the operation - which took place while Mrs Brooks was being questioned by police in south London - only made sense for one reason. "You only contemplate doing it for a real purpose - otherwise you are just attracting suspicion to yourself for no reason at all," he said. "The only rational explanation for it was it was designed to hide material so that the police wouldn't get it."

At the start of today's evidence, Mr Edis alleged that Mrs Brooks had hidden material from her homes in London and the country so that it wouldn't be discovered by the police. "Mrs Brooks knew she was likely to be arrested and, if she was, the police would have the power to search her property," he said. "Arrangements were made to remove material from both these addresses with a view to prevent material from coming into the possession of the police."

Mrs Brooks, her husband Charles, her personal assistant Cheryl Carter and the NI head of security Mark Hanna all deny charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. In addition, Mrs Brooks and three other defendants, including the former NOTW editor and former Downing Street director of communications Andy Coulson, deny conspiring to unlawfully intercept communications.

In part of the crown's opening, Mr Edis said that Mrs Brooks had taken steps during the tense days surrounding the July 2011 decision to shutter the News of the World to hide material that she believed could form of the police's investigation into phone hacking.

The court heard that she and her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, are alleged to have removed seven boxes, containing her personal notebooks, from News International's company archive.

The prosecution said that Mrs Brooks, then the chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK print division, knew there was a police investigation and a course of justice in existence which would be perverted if evidence was hidden.

The jury was told that Mrs Carter, along with her son Nick and Gary Keegan, the husband of Mrs Brooks' other assistant Deborah Keegan, went to the News International archive in Enfield in North London to collect seven boxes of notepads spanning 12 years of Mrs Brooks career in the Murdoch organisation. It was alleged that the boxes were taken to Mrs Carter's home.

Mr Edis said this group of people had been chosen to carry out this task two days earlier because they could be trusted. The jury were told the boxes of notebooks have never been found.

During another part of the prosecution's opening, Mrs Brooks was accused to taking a lead role in an email deletion policy inside News International.

Initially the deletion period was meant to cover the period up to 2007 when Clive Goodman, the former Royal editor of the News of the World, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for the paper, were jailed for phone hacking.

The jury were shown internal emails to other company executives where Mrs Brooks asked how the deletion process was going, and in one communication asked for it to be extended from 2007 to 2010. When this was questioned she replied: "Yes, January 2010. Clean sweep, thanks."

Edis said: "So there's a change in the date. Now it is anything before January 2010. Which happens to catch her entire time as a working editor at News International."

The court also heard that Mrs Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, gave personal assurances to the press watchdog over company protocols on cash payments - while she was herself approving sums of money paid to a Ministry of Defence official, a court heard today.

The jury was shown email correspondence between Mrs Brooks and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in which she responded to growing concerns over phone hacking in 2009 by stating that tough measures were in place at NI to prevent unlawful behaviour.

In correspondence in September 2009, she told Baroness Buscombe, chair of the PCC, that since the jailing of Goodman in 2007 a stringent regime had been set up, including in relation to cash payments. "Since the Goodman case, strict protocols have been put in place on cash payments. No cash payments are made without written authorisation from editors or senior editorial staff."

Mr Edis this morning painted a picture of increasing pressure at NI as revelations about phone hacking emerged between 2009 and 2011 to suggest that Goodman had not been acting alone. "The temperature was rising and it continued to rise as time went on," he said. "And what occurred effectively during this period was News International had been claiming that the work of phone hacking at the News of the World was the work of a single rogue reporter and as time went on that line became more and more untenable."

Mr Edis produced internal NI emails in which the company began to change its position. Public affairs chief Matthew Anderson told Ms Brooks in one email: "What we lose by not putting out a statement is credibility. We've spent months moving from Rogue Reporter to Zero Tolerance, with some success." He added: By not acting we have to live with a damning storyline - that an alleged organiser of phone hacking is employed at the NOTW."

Soon afterward NI produced a statement in April 2011 in which it abandoned the rogue reporter defence and set up a compensation scheme for victims of phone hacking.

Mr Edis examined the behaviour of Ms Brooks in July 2011 when the NOTW was closed down in the wake of revelations that it had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

"This was a huge business for News International and for her," he said. "There were inquiries ongoing at all times, she was aware that there was a police inquiry Operation Weeting. There was always a course of justice in existence which could have been perverted by hiding evidence. The atmosphere we would suggest became even more fevered as time went on."

He showed the jury a memo to staff produced by Mrs Brooks in July 2011in the wake of the Dowler revelations. "If the accusations are true the devastating effect on Milly Dowler's family is unforgiveable," she said.

She continued: "It's almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the NOTW staff could behave in this way."

Mrs Brooks reassured staff: "I hope that you all realise it's inconceivable that I knew or, worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations. I'm aware of the speculation about my position. Therefore it's important that we all know that as chief executive I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues."

On 7 July 2007 the NOTW's staff were told the paper was being closed.

Mr Edis said the paper and its publisher were engulfed by a "media firestorm".

He said: "You can imagine the extremely anxious if not panic stricken response to these developments that must have been going on".

The case is expected to continue until Easter 2014.

Independent News Service

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