Prosecutors told a London court today that Murdoch’s top deputies Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson carried on a six-year affair while running the News of the World, and that they colluded together to hack celebrities’ phones.
Rebekah Brooks, one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest advisors, had a secret affair with Andy Coulson, a former spokesman for the British Prime Minister David Cameron, the lead prosecutor told a court in London today.
The alleged love affair was disclosed during a trial into phone hacking by prosecutors who argued that their illicit relationship—which was conducted while both worked at News International—was evidence of a wide-ranging conspiracy inside Murdoch’s media empire.
Andrew Edis, a lawyer for the prosecution, said a note between the senior News International executives had been found by police officers investigating phone hacking. “It is clear from the letter that, as of February 2004, they had been having an affair which had lasted at least six years,” he said.
The court heard on Wednesday that three News of the World news editors and a private investigator have already pleaded guilty to charges of phone hacking. Edis alleged that Brooks, who later ran Murdoch’s British newspaper division, had been personally involved in signing-off on illegal payments to public officials and employing investigators who were engaged in phone hacking.
The prosecution is seeking to show that Brooks and Coulson were in cahoots. They both deny all charges. Edis conceded that details of the affair were likely to attract a “great deal of publicity” and might result in “unfair, unkind and unnecessary” comment. “Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson are charged with conspiracy and, when people are charged with conspiracy, the first question a jury has to answer is: How well did they know each other?” he said. “The fact that they were in this relationship, which was a secret, means that they trusted each other quite a lot with at least that secret and that’s why we are telling you about it.”
He read aloud a passage from a 2004 letter addressed to Coulson found on Brooks’s computer. Brooks, 45, was married at the time to an actor in the television soap Eastenders. “The fact is you are my very best friend, I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice,” she wrote. “I love you, care about you, worry about you, we laugh and cry together. Without our relationship in my life I am not sure I will cope.”
Coulson was Brooks’s deputy when she was appointed the youngest-ever editor of News of the World in 2000, and succeeded her when she left to become the first female editor of Britain’s best-selling daily paper, the Sun, in 2003. He resigned from his post in 2007 after the royal editor was convicted of phone hacking. Within months, Coulson was recruited to work for Cameron as Head of Communications at the Conservative Central Office. When Cameron became the head of a coalition government in May 2010, Coulson followed him into Number 10 as chief press spokesman.
The prosecution told the jury that key evidence showed that Brooks and Coulson had been involved in hacking the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a missing British schoolgirl who was later found to have been murdered. It was the revelation that the Sunday paper had hacked into the 13-year-old child’s phone which led to the closure of the News of the World.
The court heard that Brooks went on holiday to Dubai at the time of the abduction, but remained in contact with Coulson while she was away. “That’s why you need to have the full context of their relationship—because while she was away she was in contact with him, we say,” Edis said.
“Of course, what I’ve told you may mean that they had all sorts of personal reasons for wanting to remain in contact with each other, but we say to you that it’s clear from the timing of the contact that it was at least partly work-related.”
After detailing the closeness of the alleged relationship between Brooks and Coulson, the prosecution described two further cases of alleged hacking by Glenn Mulcaire, who pleaded guilty to four counts of phone hacking this year, that crossed over from the point Coulson replaced Brooks as editor of the News of the World in 2003.
Perhaps inevitably, these all involved exposés of alleged affairs and sexual infidelity.
The prosecution said the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had been a target in 2006. Prescott was then at the centre of a media storm about his affair with a civil servant, Tracey Temple. Mulcaire’s notebooks were cited as evidence that Prescott’s senior special adviser, Joan Hammill, had been hacked. An email from Mulcaire to the desk editor Ian Edmondson, cited “44 messages” in her voicemail. This email, uncovered in civil litigation in 2011 was described by Edis as “the email that ended the News of the World.”
He also detailed notes, messages and phone calls to indicating the mail boxes of two journalists, Dennis Rice and Sebastian Hamilton, from the rival Mail on Sunday newspaper had been hacked by Mulcaire. "In the dog eat world of journalism, in the frenzy to find out this story,” Edis claimed: “you hack the competition."
In the afternoon, the prosecutor outlined a request from news editor Greg Miskiw to Mulcaire to investigate the leader of the fire service’s trade union, Andy Gilchrist, in late 2002. The private investigator recorded details of the cell phone numbers and pin codes for two of Gilchrist’s friends. Brooks left to edit the Sun a few weeks later at the beginning of 2003, and stories about Gilchrist featured heavily in the daily tabloid with stories with headlines like "Fire Liar” with the lede: “It's bad enough Gilchrist is a Marxist rabble rouser now we reveal him as a lowlife fornicator.”
Though Edis acknowledged these Sun stories did not come from phone hacking, he claimed they showed Brooks agenda and interest crossing over as she edited the sister paper.
In the afternoon the jury was asked to look at details of another phone hacking timeline: that of Labour home secretary David Blunkett, one of the most senior ministers in the Labour government at the time, with responsibility for policing and counter-terrorism and the highest security clearance. Blunkett was approached by Andy Coulson in 2004 with allegations that he was having an affair.
Blunkett taped the conversation with Coulson, on Saturday August 11, the day before the News of the World went to press. In the long and tense exchange Coulson tells the home secretary that he knows about his affair with Kimberley Quinn. “Someone else won't be as fair,” Coulson says. “What I'm prepared to do....is to run this story and keep Kimberley name out of it.” Coulson adds: “I wouldn't have come all this way exposing myself to you unless I was confident it was true. I'm not going to tell you my source."
The prosecution then pointed to entries in Mulcaire’s notebook where he appears to have been asked by Miskiw to hack the numbers of Kimberley Quinn, including a voicemail from her clinic about her pregnancy. The News of the World ran a story about Blunkett’s affair with an unnamed married woman on the Sunday as Coulson had promised. On the Monday Quinn was named as Blunkett’s lover by Brook’s Sun newspaper.
“It is absolutely inconceivable they would publish a story about a serving cabinet member unless they knew it was true,” Edis said of Brooks and Coulson “and the reason they knew this was true was because of phone hacking." In this case the prosecution claimed it didn’t even need to cross-reference Mulcaire: “We know all this because tape recordings of the voicemail messages of David Blunkett were recovered from the safe of News International’s lawyer.”
The prosecutor closed today’s court session with a further promise: “I will turn to the next home secretary tomorrow morning."
The trial continues.