Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News Corp. (NWSA:US)’s U.K. unit, was at the center of phone-hacking and bribery practices that were commonplace at two company newspapers for a decade, prosecutors said on the first day of a criminal trial in London.
Brooks, 45, oversaw hacking as the editor of the weekly News of the World and bribes to public officials when she moved to the daily Sun, prosecutor Andrew Edis told jurors yesterday. Three former News Corp. journalists and a private investigator have pleaded guilty to intercepting voice mails, he said.
Brooks is one of eight people on trial on a variety of charges stemming from wrongdoing at News Corp. newspapers. Rupert Murdoch, the company’s chairman, closed the News of the World in July 2011 in a bid to defuse the scandal, which was sparked by public outrage at the phone hacking of a missing teenager, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
“The investigation and discoveries resulted in the closure of the News of the World,” Edis said. “That came about because of the discovery that the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked.”
Brooks, who became chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit in 2009, and Andy Coulson, another former editor of the News of the World, are the two most prominent figures on trial over the reporting practices at the paper. Both sat in the court as the trial began, taking notes.
“Between 2000 and 2006 there was phone hacking done for the benefit of” the News of the World, Edis said. “It started when Rebekah Brooks was the editor, but continued when Andy Coulson took over.”
Edis said that rather than an attack on a free press, the case was about making sure journalists don’t break the law. Possible victims of phone hacking included actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller, and former Beatle Paul McCartney, he said.
“The News of the World was a Sunday newspaper,” he said. “It was not ‘War and Peace.’ It was the sort of document that if you are its editor you could take an interest in its content without too much trouble.”
Coulson, who became a media adviser to David Cameron in 2007, and Brooks both approved bribes to public officials during their tenures, Edis said. Coulson, 45, signed off on payments to get phone books with private information about the royal family that could later be used to intercept voice-mail messages, he said.
Brooks personally gave the go ahead to payments of 40,000 pounds ($64,000) to a “highly placed” Ministry of Defence official, Edis said.
The other defendants include Stuart Kuttner, the 73-year-old former managing editor of the News of the World, and Ian Edmondson, a 44-year-old former news editor, who are both accused of phone hacking. The newspaper’s one-time royal reporter, Clive Goodman, 56, is charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
Brooks, Coulson and Kuttner controlled “the purse strings” at the News of the World and approved the payments to officials, Edis said.
Brooks’s husband, Charlie, her former assistant Cheryl Carter, and the U.K. unit’s former head of security, Mark Hanna, face charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
All eight have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their lawyers will present arguments later in the trial.
Ex-News of the World Chief Reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former Assistant Editors Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges they conspired to hack phones, Edis said. Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective who conducted much of the phone hacking at the tabloid has also pleaded guilty to interception charges, including those relating to Dowler.
“These pleas, and the evidence on which they were based, shows that there was frequent phone hacking at the News of the World, done by Mulcaire and Goodman,” Edis said.
Mulcaire was paid around 100,000 pounds a year by News Corp.’s U.K. unit, Edis said, “though they were conspicuously silent about what they got for their money.”
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