Rebekah Brooks led a conspiracy involving her husband and code words to hide notebooks and computers from police following the discovery that journalists hacked the mobile phone of a missing teenager, prosecutors said.
“The heat was turning up” on Brooks, the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, amid a media firestorm that followed revelations that Milly Dowler’s voice-mail messages had been intercepted by the News of the World tabloid, prosecutor Andrew Edis told jurors in London today. Seven boxes of notebooks were taken from a storage facility to the home of her long-time personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, Edis said.
Brooks, 45, 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 over Dowler, who was found murdered in 2002.
“The atmosphere, we would suggest, became even more fevered as time went on,” Edis said on the fourth day of the trial. “You can imagine the extremely anxious, if not panic-stricken approach to what was going on.”
Following Brooks’s arrest on July 17, 2011, security guards employed by News Corp.’s News International unit carried out a complicated series of maneuvers to prevent police from seizing computers, Edis said.
One security guard texted “Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot,” confirming the drop off of a bag with laptops in it behind trash cans close to Brooks’s Chelsea apartment, referring to a line from the 1968 film “Where Eagles Dare”
A cleaner later found the trash bag and turned it into police.
Brooks, who had also been the editor of the Sunday News of the World and News Corp.’s daily Sun tabloid, instigated the retrieval of the notebooks, which covered 1995 to 2007, on the Friday before the publication of the final issue of the News of the World, Edis said.
Carter, who is also on trial in the case, tried to cover for her boss, telling police that Brooks wasn’t in the office that day, Edis said. Mobile-phone data, however, indicate Brooks was on site, Edis said.
Brooks and Carter are both charged with obstruction of justice in relation to the boxes of notebooks. Mark Hanna, the former head of security at the News Corp. unit and Brooks’s husband, Charlie, also face obstruction of justice charges.
“Who picks up the matter? Not couriers, but people that she trusted,” Edis said. The boxes have never been seen again, he said.
Brooks is also charged with phone hacking and bribery of public officials. Another former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, faces similar allegations at the trial.
Coulson’s lawyer, Timothy Langdale, told jurors that his client wasn’t aware of phone hacking while he was editor of the News of the World. Coulson’s own phone was hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who did much of the voice-mail interception at the tabloid.
Coulson, who later went on to be a media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, had resigned his post at the tabloid in 2007 when royal reporter Clive Goodman and Mulcaire were sentenced to prison for phone hacking.
“Clearly something went badly wrong” at the News of the World “during his watch -- he recognized that and resigned,” Langdale said. “He wishes he had made some different decisions. He did not commit these offenses. It is our case that he was never party to an agreement to hack phones, whatever anyone else might have been doing on his watch.”
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, Goodman, 56, is charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
Mulcaire is one of four former News of the World employees who have pleaded guilty to phone-hacking charges in the current trial.