Hacking Trial: Prosecution Outlines Obstruction of Justice Allegations
LONDON -- The prosecution in the U.K. phone hacking trial here continued to outline its case Monday with a focus on two alleged cases of obstruction of justice.
The trial features eight defendants, including former News Corp U.K. newspaper top executives Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, as well as six others. It focuses on three types of charges: conspiracy to hack mobile phones, conspiracy to bribe public officials and conspiracy to "pervert the course of justice."
The latter allegations were in focus Monday as public prosecutor Andrew Edis looked to wrap up his opening statement, which he had started on Wednesday.
He discussed two instances of alleged obstruction -- one focusing on Brooks and her personal assistant and boxes of notepads that disappeared, and the other involving a broader group of people, including a security official using a famous quote from the 1968 movie Where Eagles Dare with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.
Painting a picture of panic in the summer of 2011 during the final days of the News of the World tabloid, which was part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, Edis said Brooks was under increasing pressure. With the police probing the U.K. newspaper arm of Murdoch's company, of which Brooks was the CEO, Edis said it was increasingly clear to her that she would become a focus of scrutiny.
"Hiding evidence was not acceptable at any time," but the atmosphere became more and more intense amid the "media firestorm, which was about to engulf the News of the World," he said.
Edis said that Brooks' personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, one of the eight defendants in the current trial, Carter's son Nick and the husband of Brooks' other assistant picked up the seven boxes of notepads from the archive of NOTW parent News International -- material covering the 1995-2007 time period -- just two days before the NOTW's final edition was published. He noted that they must have been entrusted with a special task since otherwise a regular courier could have been sent. The boxes were never found.
Edis also told the jury Monday that Carter later told police that the boxes had contained her own materials. And he argued that Carter also provided Brooks with a "false alibi," telling police that she was out of the office the day the notepads were checked out, while phone records showed otherwise. He cited one other claim that Carter had made to police that Edis said wasn't true.
"So there were a number of falsehoods about this exercise," he summarized, saying they would have been unnecessary if Carter had simply looked to check out her own material.
Just before the 1 p.m. lunch break, Edis outlined a second allegation of obstruction of justice, which focused on Brooks, husband Charlie Brooks, and Mark Hanna, a former security executive at the corporate parent of NOTW. Charlie Brooks and Hanna also are among the defendants of the current trial.
Edis suggested they conspired to move a laptop computer and contents of a bag and/or briefcase by moving the objects from the Brooks' homes to the garbage bin area in the garage of their London home.
Hanna led security for Rebekah and Charlie Brooks after the former had resigned as CEO of News International. Edis said she must have been expecting arrest at the time, with Hanna's security team launching "Operation Blackhawk" to protect them.
On July 17, 2011, the day Rebekah Brooks was arrested, a complicated set of moves brought a briefcase, a bag and a laptop out of the Brooks' homes before police could search them, Edis explained, describing Hanna as the key person orchestrating things. The prosecutor also argued that Hanna, Charlie Brooks and other security officials were in regular contact during that time.
Hanna's team first helped removed the items, then returned them in what Edis described as an operation that was "quite complicated and quite risky," arguing it had to have "a real purpose." His conclusion: It was "designed to hide material" from the police.
Among the materials he used to detail all the participants' moves in this case were photos from security cameras that, among other things, showed Charlie Brooks with a bag and laptop in the garage before he made a left turn toward where the garbage bins are. "He returns, empty-handed," Edis said, describing the next photo. He said the prosecution is arguing that Brooks wanted to ensure that the police couldn't seize the items in a search.
Hanna took away the bag and laptop from the garbage bins, the prosecution argued after showing another picture. He was also shown carrying a briefcase that Edis argued had come from another Brooks home.
By Saturday night, those of the removed objects deemed safe to return were again stashed behind the garbage bins in the parking lot at the Brooks' London apartment building, the jury heard. The security official responsible for the drop quoted a line from Where Eagles Dare, an action-adventure in which allied agents stage a raid on a castle where the Nazis are holding an American general prisoner, when he finished his job, Edis said.
"Broadsword calling Danny Boy," he texted his bosses, using a popular line from the film that is often quoted in Britain, Edis said. "Pizza delivered, and the chicken is in the pot."
Edis explained that the pizza delivery reference was the cover for people asking why the security official was on location. He indeed did bring pizza, and his bosses told him to log his work as "pizza delivery," Edis explained.
He said that thanks to a cleaner in the garage, though, the objects were found before Charlie Brooks or anyone else could retrieve them.