Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Rebekah Brooks told a London court that she had no knowledge of the private detective at the center of the phone-hacking scandal while she edited News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid a decade ago.
Brooks, who edited the tabloid from 2000 to 2003, said Glenn Mulcaire’s illegal activities were never brought to her attention. Brooks, 45, testified for the first time in the 14-week-old trial, telling jurors about her connections to politicians and company Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, is one of seven people on trial for charges related to wrongdoing at News Corp. newspapers. A scandal triggered by news that reporters hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl led Murdoch to close the News of the World in July 2011.
Mulcaire, employed by the weekly tabloid to intercept voice mails, has pleaded guilty to phone hacking charges. Brooks, wearing a navy blue dress, with her red hair tied back, said in response to questions from her lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw, that she had no knowledge of Mulcaire “at all.”
“It is impossible for an editor to know every source of every story,” she said. One issue of the tabloid would have about 200 stories in it, she said.
Laidlaw started Brooks’s defense by telling jurors that the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit isn’t on trial because of her links to Murdoch or the company’s political views.
The case against Brooks is taking place in the shadow of “agendas that are being pursued elsewhere,” Laidlaw told the court.
Earlier yesterday, Judge John Saunders told jurors to acquit Brooks of a bribery charge related to allegations she approved a payment for a photo taken of Prince William at a party in a bikini. The judge said there was considerable uncertainty about where the picture came from.
Film stars, politicians and celebrities have testified at the trial as prosecutors focused on what they say was criminal activity carried out by News Corp. reporters, placing Brooks at the heart of it all. The opening days of the case last year were punctuated by a letter that showed Brooks had a six-year-affair with Andy Coulson, another defendant in the case.
Brooks yesterday recalled her early days as a senior journalist at the company and her first meeting with Murdoch. He advised her to keep her head down and work hard.
“He was particularly keen for me to take a strict path on any kind of publicity,” Brooks said. Murdoch doesn’t like his “editors spouting forth their opinions” on TV or radio, she said. “I made the fatal error of telling him” a magazine wanted to interview her and “his reaction was very grim.”
Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World by the age of 31, said she was subject to “a bit of old-school misogyny” when in a senior role.
Celebrity stories are an integral part of tabloid newspaper culture. Brooks said that while she was features editor of the News of the World, she spent $250,000 on a 1995 story about Hugh Grant and a prostitute, Divine Brown. The amount included about $100,000 to fly Brown and her family to a safe location in Nevada and housing costs.
Prosecutors submitted an e-mail to jurors on Feb. 18 that showed Brooks discussed the scandal with former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair on the day after News Corp. closed the News of the World. Blair offered to unofficially advise Brooks and Murdoch on how to handle the matter, Brooks said in the e-mail.
“Keep strong and definitely sleeping pills,” Blair told Brooks, according to the e-mail submitted by prosecutors. “Need to have clear heads and remember no rash short term solutions as they only give you long term headaches.”
Brooks told the jury yesterday that she first met Blair and other members of his Labour Party at a speech on education in 1997. Later that year, the Sun backed Blair’s successful election campaign.
Brooks said she was born in northwest England in 1968 to a gardener father and a personal-assistant mother. She cared for her grandparents growing up, she said yesterday.
“My mum says that I told her when I was eight that I wanted to be a journalist,” Brooks, who also edited News Corp.’s daily Sun newspaper before taking an executive role, told jurors.
The defendants in the case include not only Coulson, but also her current husband, Charlie Brooks. Prosecutors say that Brooks directed a conspiracy to destroy evidence at the height of the scandal along with her husband and colleagues.
Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World. went on to become a press aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Stuart Kuttner, the former managing editor of the News of the World, is accused of phone hacking. The newspaper’s one-time royal reporter, Clive Goodman, is charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.
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 seven have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy Hodges in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com