Rebekah Brooks told a London court that News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch asked her not to resign from her post running the company’s U.K. newspaper unit at the height of the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011.
Brooks said that she tendered her resignation to Murdoch days after the disclosure that reporters had listened to messages on the phone of a murdered schoolgirl. Brooks, who insisted upon stepping down, said the meeting with Murdoch was part of a frantic week dealing with the fallout of what became a global media scandal.
Brooks, 45, 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. Murdoch closed the weekly News of the World in 2011 and dropped a 7.8 billion-pound ($13 billion) offer for British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc in a bid to end the scandal.
“It really was now time with the closure of the News of the World. I felt that it was probably the right thing to do,” she said today. “Should have done it,” even though earlier she “didn’t do it. Asked not to do it.”
Brooks, who edited the newspaper from 2000 to 2003, said that she didn’t know that a private investigator at the tabloid was directed to listen to the voice-mail messages on the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was found murdered in 2002.
“First of all I didn’t believe it,” Brooks said of learning of the hacking allegations while she was at a fertility clinic in July 2011.
Earlier in the trial, Brooks said that efforts to have a child through fertility treatments culminated with the surrogate birth of her daughter. She has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against her and today denied any knowledge of a plot to hide evidence from police at the height of the scandal.
The Dowler news reignited the phone-hacking scandal that had been in and out of the headlines since 2006.
“When it rains,” it pours, Piers Morgan, a former editor of a rival tabloid who was then the host of a CNN news program, said in a text message to Brooks. “Lots of fury building on the Internet.”
Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair sent her a message of support.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with,” Blair said. “Thinking of you. I have been through things like this before.” Earlier in the trial, the jury was shown a memo by Brooks in which she said Blair offered to be an unofficial adviser to the company during the scandal.
Brooks said today that after learning about the Dowler hacking, she was concerned that the publicity would hurt the company’s bid for the BSkyB shares it didn’t already own.
A key regulatory ruling in July 2011 on News Corp.’s offer for BSkyB was expected days after the news about Milly Dowler became a national scandal. Brooks said she was worried about how the publicity, which dominated newspaper headlines worldwide, would affect the BSkyB deal.
News Corp. executives had considered closing the News of the World to save the BSkyB bid weeks earlier because of increased scrutiny of hacking amid a police probe and a number of civil lawsuits.
“Is the brand too toxic for itself or the company? I believe it is,” Simon Greenberg, a News Corp. executive who would later join the company’s management and standards committee that worked with the police probes, said in a June 2011 e-mail shown to the jury yesterday. “Unparalleled moments need unparalleled action.”
Brooks said she considered stepping down from her post running the company’s U.K. unit as far back as April 2011 because of the phone-hacking allegations. Following the Dowler news, she said she no longer had any choice and was told she had to wait for a face-to-face meeting with Murdoch to tender her resignation.
Senior executives decided Brooks should resign on July 14, 2011, before she appeared before lawmakers the following week, she said. On the day Brooks resigned she was escorted from the company’s London headquarters.
Andy Coulson, another defendant who was also a former editor of the News of the World, resigned from his job as a media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2011 following a “discreet” meeting with Brooks to discuss information the company had uncovered about hacking at the tabloid, Brooks testified yesterday.
Coulson has pleaded not guilty to charges of phone hacking and bribery in the case.
Brooks was arrested for the first time on July 17, 2011, as she arrived at a police station. “As I got out of the car the police officer arrested me there and then,” Brooks said. She spent 12 1/2 hours in custody, she said.
She then returned to her Oxfordshire home to find her husband, Charlie, in a “state” due to the amount of red wine he had drunk.
“He was three sheets to the wind,” she said.
She repeatedly denied knowing anything about any plot to hide computers and files following her arrest.
Brooks said she “lost it” when her husband later told her that there had been a “mix-up” and he had lost his “rather large porn collection” and there was a chance that the police would now arrest him.
“It was just the final straw in what had been a quite cataclysmic few days,” Brooks said.
Brooks’s husband, 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.