Rebekah Brooks told a London court that she found it “abhorrent” that journalists at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid hacked the phone of a missing teenager for a story.
Brooks, who edited the newspaper from 2000 to 2003, said she didn’t know that a private investigator was directed to hack the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was found murdered in 2002. She said she reacted with “shock” and “horror” in July 2011 when the incident became public.
“Anyone would think that was pretty abhorrent,” Brooks, 45, said on her third day of testimony in London.
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. The Dowler case triggered a scandal that led News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to close the 168-year-old News of the World in July 2011.
Brooks, who is charged with conspiring to illegally access Dowler’s voice mails, repeated today that she was unaware of the contracts for a private detective who was hired by the newspaper to hack telephones. The investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, has pleaded guilty to phone hacking.
She said that while she edited the tabloid a decade ago, she was unaware phone hacking was against the law, but still considered it a “serious breach of privacy.”
“I cannot see that it would have been a useful thing to do,” Brooks said. “Particularly if you did not have an overwhelming public interest for doing so.”
Brooks said that in a hypothetical situation she might have approved hacking if the story had justified it, such as her work leading a campaign in the newspaper to police pedophiles.
“If someone had come to me with the right circumstances,” Brooks said. “I may have.”
Brooks said she was on vacation in Dubai when Dowler’s phone was hacked and the newspaper was being run by Andy Coulson, another defendant in the case.
The weekly tabloid published a story on Sunday April 14, 2002, saying Dowler’s phone had been targeted by a prank caller, with the text of a voice-mail message from a recruitment agency seemingly offering Dowler a job. Later editions excluded the quote, prosecutors said earlier in the trial.
Brooks said she made phone calls and sent text messages to the newspaper in London from Dubai before the story went out. Phone records indicate Brooks used her phone 12 times, including three calls to the editor’s desk at the News of the World, on the Friday before the story was published.
“It’s Friday evening,” Brooks said of one of the calls. “Usually the time to check in.”
She also exchanged four texts with Coulson that day and then made a 20-minute call to the paper on Saturday.
Coulson, who replaced Brooks as editor of the News of the World, later went on to become a press aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Brooks also said she wasn’t aware that staff at the tabloid had been in touch with police about a voice mail left on Dowler’s phone.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors said Stuart Kuttner, the newspaper’s former managing editor, told London police in a 2011 interview that he didn’t remember sending an e-mail to detectives in Surrey, south of the capital, investigating Dowler’s disappearance in 2002 that offered them tape recordings of the teenager’s voice mails, prosecutors said.
Kuttner is accused of conspiring to hack phones. 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.