News Corp.’s position that phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid was limited to a rogue reporter became “shaky” after the discovery of a 2005 e-mail showed the practice was widespread, Rebekah Brooks, the former head of the company’s U.K. unit, testified today.
Brooks, 45, said that the e-mail, which mentioned tabloid reporter Neville Thurlbeck, demonstrated that more people knew about phone hacking than only one journalist and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, jailed in 2007. She said that she adopted a zero-tolerance to voice-mail interception when she became head of the U.K. unit.
The e-mail “showed that the emphaticness of the company’s statement that nobody else knew about Mulcaire was looking shaky,” Brooks said, referring to the 2005 message that became known as the “For Neville” e-mail, during her seventh day of testimony today.
Brooks 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.
The e-mail mentioned Thurlbeck, the former News of the World chief reporter who has pleaded guilty to hacking charges. The e-mail contained 35 transcripts of messages left on the phone of Gordon Taylor, chief executive officer of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
The company had maintained that all hacking activities at the paper were confined to ex-royal reporter Clive Goodman and Mulcaire.
Mulcaire has pleaded guilty to phone hacking while Goodman is a defendant in today’s case. News Corp. paid Mulcaire’s legal fees to try to block him from naming other reporters he had dealt with at the publisher in a civil case brought by celebrity publicist Max Clifford, Brooks said.
The term “rogue exception” was coined by Colin Myler, the last editor of the News of the World, Brooks said. Between May 2007 and July 2009 the subject of phone hacking “went without any conversation,” at News Corp.’s U.K. unit, she said.
Then News Corp.’s U.K. unit gave police three e-mails with private details about lawmakers and members of the royal family that sparked probes into phone hacking and bribery at its two company newspapers.
The e-mails signified that another journalist at the News of the World “was fully engaged with Mr. Mulcaire in intercepting voice mails,” Brooks said today on her reaction to seeing them for the first time.
Brooks said she had a “discreet” meeting with Andy Coulson in January 2011, days before he stepped down as Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications to tell him about the “pretty incriminating” e-mails.
“It was becoming very difficult for Andy’s position at Downing Street with this ongoing civil liability because every time there was a civil claim there was huge publicity,” Brooks said. “It was a very difficult balance running comms for Downing Street and being part of the story. I thought this new information would make it worse, but Andy had already come to that decision himself.”
Coulson, who also edited the News of the World, is a defendant in the case, facing charges of phone hacking and bribery.