By Michael Holden and Kate Holton
LONDON — The jury trying Rebekah Brooks over phone-hacking charges should not hold her role as a former Rupert Murdoch editor with huge political influence against her, her lawyer said, as the former British newspaper boss took the stand on Thursday (20/02/2014).
Brooks, a friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, answered questions in court for the first time on the hacking scandal which has convulsed Britain’s elite and forced Murdoch to close the 168-year-old tabloid at the centre of the scandal, the News of the World.
Opening Brooks’s defence within a packed court room on day 62 of the trial, Jonathan Laidlaw urged the jury to forget the myth that had built up around one of the most famous women in Britain, and to focus on the specific charges.
He was speaking shortly after the judge ruled that Brooks had been acquitted on one of the five charges she was facing, relating to one charge of authorising an illegal payment for a picture of Prince William in a bikini.
She denies all the other charges.
“It is time for you to see Mrs Brooks as she is, not as she is described or spoken of, but as she is,” Laidlaw told the jury, adding that the time had come for them “to begin the process to work out if there is any truth in the allegations made against her“.
Laidlaw said he would have more to say later in the trial about Brooks’s treatment “at the hands of the police and the prosecution and about the approach that has been taken to her case“.
He told the jury Brooks was not on trial for her role as a senior editor to Murdoch, or the influence that this gave her.
“She is not being tried, is she, because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper,” he said.
“Neither is she on trial for having worked for Rupert Murdoch’s company or for having worked her way up literally from the bottom through that organisation.” Laidlaw said Brooks was not being tried for her political views or the stance of News International, News Corp’s British newspaper arm which she ran until 2011.
“She’s not being tried for News International’s strategy, for its policies, its influences or its corporate views.” Brooks took the stand for the first time on Thursday, wearing a blue dress and white cardigan, and appeared apprehensive as she started answering questions about how she had got into journalism.
She occasionally cast glances at her husband who is in the dock accused of helping her to hide evidence from police.
“My mum says I told her when I was eight I wanted to be a journalist,” she said, before noting to the judge that mothers tend to say that sort of thing.
The jury was told she moved to the News of the World to work on its magazine as a researcher in 1989, and later as a writer.
Asked how good she was at interviewing people for stories, she said: “Well I kept my job so I must have been alright.” Despite a lack of experience and only basic journalism training, the court heard how she rapidly rose through the ranks.
By March 1994, she was deputy features editor and the following September, at the age of just 27, was made acting deputy editor of what was then Britain’s biggest selling newspaper.
Brooks, 45, is still accused of four other offences relating to conspiracy to hack voicemail messages on mobile phones, authorising illegal payments to public officials and then plotting to hinder a subsequent police investigation.
Before she began her defence, the jury were instructed by the judge overseeing her trial at London’s Old Bailey court to return a verdict of not guilty on one of two charges against her of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
This related to an allegation that Brooks had approved an illegal 4,000-pound ($6,700) payment for a picture of Prince William dressed as a “James Bond girl” and wearing a bikini while at a military academy party in 2006. – Reuters