Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Rebekah Brooks said she approved payments to public officials for information for stories about six times over the decade she edited News Corp. tabloids.
There had to be an “overwhelming public interest” to justify the payments, Brooks, 45, said on her fifth day of testimony in a London courtroom.
“The relationship between the police and the press was symbiotic,” she said.
Brooks, the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, is one of seven people standing trial on charges related to phone hacking and bribing public officials at the New York-based company’s U.K. newspapers. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the weekly News of the World in 2011 amid a scandal over revelations journalists intercepted voice-mail messages on the phone of a missing teenager.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors said Brooks authorized payments of 40,000 pounds ($66,500) to a public official while she edited News Corp.’s Sun tabloid. Brooks today denied she knew who the source was or that the person was a ministry of defense employee.
The Sun reporter “never told me any of his confidential sources,” Brooks said. “There should have been a process for that to come to me so I could, if anything, take responsibility for it.”
Brooks was shown a series of stories by her lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw, that appeared in the Sun between 2006 and 2009 that were said to have come direct from the ministry of defense official, including one about an army recruit who was in a coma.
After the story was published, Brooks was asked in an e-mail from a Sun reporter for approval of payments for stories that came from a “number one military source,” and were “cheap at the price.”
She replied “of course,” within minutes of receiving the request for 4,500 pounds in one of the November 2006 e-mails.
“This story could have come from any variety of sources,” Brooks said today.
In response to a hypothetical question from Laidlaw, Brooks said “I think I would have” approved a payment for the story had she known about the source.
A public official in the U.K. is defined as any government employee including armed forces, civil servants, police and prison service.
Judge John Saunders last week told jurors to acquit Brooks of a separate 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.
Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World who went on to become a press aide to Prime Minister David Cameron, is also on trial for phone hacking and bribery offenses.
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.
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