Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, former editors of News Corp.’s U.K. tabloids, oversaw a decade of phone hacking and bribery at the two newspapers during a secret professional and personal relationship, prosecutors said.
Brooks and Coulson, both 45, are among 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 tabloid in July 2011 in a bid to defuse a scandal over revelations journalists had hacked the phone of a missing teenager, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
Brooks, who later became the head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, and Coulson, who would become an adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, had a six-year-long affair ending in 2004 that was discovered by police, prosecutor Andrew Edis told jurors in London yesterday.
“When people are charged with conspiracy, the first question is how well do they know each other, how much do they trust each other,” Edis said. “The fact they were in this relationship, which was a secret, means they trusted each other quite a lot.”
Edis said earlier this week that Brooks, who later edited News Corp.’s daily Sun tabloid and became head of its News International unit, was at the center of the phone-hacking and bribery conspiracies. Coulson is accused of conspiring to hack phones and to commit misconduct in a public office. All eight defendants deny the charges.
A 2004 letter found at Rebekah Brooks’s house by police was intended for Andy Coulson, and said that they had been having an affair, which had lasted for at least six years.
“The fact is you are my very best friend, I tell you everything, I love you, care about you, worry about you, we laugh and cry together.” Edis said, reading the letter to the jury. “In fact without our relationship in my life I am not sure I will cope.”
Brooks’s current husband, Charlie, is also on trial in the case for perverting the course of justice. She married him in 2009, the same year that she divorced actor Ross Kemp after a seven-year marriage. Coulson has been married since 2000, the Guardian newspaper said.
The Brooks letter also mentioned News Corp. executives, and she told Coulson not to “brood” over a lack of calls from Murdoch.
Earlier, Edis said News Corp.’s U.K. unit gave police e-mails with private details about lawmakers and members of the royal family that sparked probes into phone hacking and bribery at its two tabloids.
The three e-mails showed that Glenn Mulcaire, an investigator at the News of the World, passed on details obtained through phone hacking about former government ministers John Prescott and Tessa Jowell as well as Frederick Windsor, who is 41st in line to the throne, to senior journalists at the now-defunct tabloid, Edis told jurors.
In 2006, when the hacking occurred, Jowell’s husband, David Mills, was embroiled in allegations of bribery with senior Italian politicians including Silvio Berlusconi. Jowell, a member of the Labour Party, was culture secretary at the time.
Prosecutors played a tape of Mulcaire, who was paid 100,000 pounds ($160,000) a year by News Corp.’s U.K. unit, trying to trick an operator into giving him private details, a practice known as blagging. He was paid at least 413,500 pounds over a seven-year period while newspaper executives were trying to cut costs, Edis said.
“You don’t award someone a contract of that value unless they are doing something for it,” said Edis, the lead prosecutor. “Someone must’ve thought it was worthwhile.”
News Corp.’s U.K. tabloids also used Mulcaire to hack the phones of other journalists to spoil a scoop on Prescott at a rival paper.
“In the dog-eat-dog world of journalism, in this frenzy to get this huge story to get something better, or at least as good as someone else, that is what you do, you hack the competition,” Edis said.
“You are going to have to form a view about how much pressure was put on the journalist so that they strayed into crime in order to do it,” he said.
Edis said a story in both the News of the World and the Sun about an affair involving former Home Secretary David Blunkett was the result of phone hacking.
Edis played a recording of a conversation between Coulson and the lawmaker, confronting him with the story before it was published. Coulson refused to reveal his sources and said he was “sure it was right.”
“I wouldn’t be exposing myself in this way unless I believed the story to be true,” Coulson said to Blunkett. “I am confident.”
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’s 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.
Edis said that editors, including Edmondson, were all aware of phone hacking because it was a way to generate scoops while cutting the corners of traditional reporting.
“One nice, easy, cheap way to find out what they were doing is to hack their phones,” Edis said.