Hacking conspiracy 'pervasive' at tabloid, prosecutor tells jury

By James Cusick, Ian Burrell

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives at the Central Criminal Court in London. Photo / AP
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives at the Central Criminal Court in London. Photo / AP

Prosecutors have set out the case against Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson at London's Old Bailey, telling jurors "the people in charge of the purse strings" at the News of the World knew phone hacking was being carried out on their watch.

On the second day of a trial that could last for six months, the court was told that three journalists who were in charge of news operations at the Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid had pleaded guilty to phone-hacking charges. The prosecution also said Glenn Mulcaire, the hacking specialist regularly commissioned by the paper, had pleaded guilty to hacking the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002.

In his opening address, the prosecutor, Andrew Edis, QC, said the guilty pleas from former newsdesk editors Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and Greg Miskiw had been made at an earlier stage of legal proceedings.

Mulcaire, who had already been convicted of phone-hacking in 2007, the jury was told, was described to the court as the man hired by the now-closed paper because he was good at finding the codes that provided access to private voicemail messages.

All four pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to illegally intercept communications in the course of their transmission. The jury heard that previous admissions by News International had focused on a rogue reporter, the paper's former royal correspondent Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 with Mulcaire.

Edis said that because Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting investigation had now secured the convictions of the three news editors and Mulcaire, "it cannot ... ever [be] suggested by anybody that phone-hacking at the NOTW was restricted to Mr Clive Goodman". Edis said the guilty pleas of the news editors "prove that there was a conspiracy" at the paper.

Phone hacking is one of three alleged conspiracies involving eight defendants that the jury will be asked to consider over the coming months.

All eight sat together in the dock, separated from the court by a glass panel, as Edis laid out the Crown's case. The charges, which do not apply uniformly to all the accused, involve hacking, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by "secretly preventing" information from being obtained by police, and the allegation that officials holding public office had been persuaded to sell secret and private information to the NOTW and Sun newspapers. The jury was told that payments to one Ministry of Defence official approved by Brooks totalled 40,000 ($77,600).

Promising "a long trial" that would focus on events that had made "big news", Edis told the jury "journalism was not on trial". But he added that there had been no justification for journalists at the NOTW to resort to "hacking and blagging", saying these were an "intrusion into people's privacy, which is against the law" and "journalists are no more entitled to break the law than anyone else".

Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, and Coulson, Prime Minister David Cameron's former director of communications, who was initially Brooks' deputy editor at the NOTW before moving into the editor's chair himself, sat silently as Edis told the jury that those responsible for running the paper had allowed phone hacking to happen, had been responsible for the payments to Mulcaire and had been part of the conspiracy which let it continue.

He said that the practice of phone hacking inside the newspaper was "pervasive".

Addressing the nine men and three women on the jury, he told them that among their tasks was to decide: "If there was phone hacking - who knew?"

Edis said they needed to consider whether Brooks and Coulson, the editors of the NOTW from 2000 to 2006 when phone-hacking took place, must have known how stories on their papers were being obtained.

"The News of the World is a Sunday paper," Edis told the court. "That means it published once a week, 52 times a year. It wasn't War and Peace. It wasn't an enormous document. It was the sort of document that if you were its editor you could actually take an interest in its content without too much trouble."

Brooks and Coulson, along with former managing editor Stuart Kuttner and former news editor Ian Edmondson, are charged with conspiracy to intercept phone messages.

The prosecution told the court Edmondson had personally intercepted calls after Mulcaire's techniques were learned by key journalists on the newsdesk.

Brooks is also charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice along with her husband, Charlie, and other co-defendants Cheryl Carter, Brooks' former personal assistant, and Mark Hanna, a former head of security at News International.

- Independent

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