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LONDON – The phone hacking trial against former News Internation top executives Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson and six others continued Thursday with the prosecution playing an audio tape and showing e-mails and other material that it said would prove a hacking conspiracy at the former News of the World tabloid.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis continued his opening statement, telling the 12 jurors about three e-mails disclosed by the U.K. newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire in 2011 that he said caused police here to launch the probe that led to the trial.
They were from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who – as was revealed Wednesday – has previously pleaded guilty to hacking, to ex-News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson, one of the eight defendants. The latter once again sat in the courtroom’s dock Thursday on the far left from the judge’s vantage point. Edmondson during wide parts of the morning session used pen and notepad to write notes.
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Much of Thursday’s morning session focused on Edmondson and what Edis highlighted were regular exchanges between him and Mulcaire, some of which, he argued, showed Mulcaire providing summaries on his own hacking work or info, such a phone number and pin code, for the hacking of certain people’s phones. The prosecutor once again argued though that former editors Coulson and Brooks also had to be aware of Mulcaire’s work given their responsibility for ensuring that stories in the News of the World were true.
Edis spoke of the competitive “dog-eat-dog” world of Fleet Street, London’s former newspaper district, arguing it may have led the defendants to accept the use of phone hacking to get or confirm stories and spy on competitors, such as two reporters from the Mail on Sunday. He also spoke of the industry “frenzy to get the story.”
“We know what Mr. Mulcaire was doing, he was phone hacking,” Edis said about exchanges between the private investigator and Edmondson in the mid-2000s. “Look how much contact there is at this time between Mr. Edmondson and Mr. Mulcaire. Do you think it is likely or even possible that Mr. Edmondson did not know what was being done by Mr. Mulcaire?”
He argued that given the importance of the stories — “this was big stuff,” as he said — the NOTW editor also had to have asked the question: “How do I know this information is true?”
And he said Mulcaire at one point was paid around £100,000 (about $160,000 at current exchange rates) a year, which all top editors must have been aware of. Stuart Kuttner, a former NOTW managing editor, authorized most payments to Mulcaire, Edis said, citing 221 payments that amounted to £413,527. But “a big contract involves the senior management,” he argued. “It was not hidden from anybody that he was being paid all that money.”
He said that must have been particularly true given e-mails from Brooks that showed her pushing for budget cuts, meaning that she was “actively involved” in financial matters at the paper. Despite this pressure of looking for cost savings around the organization, nobody seemed to have questioned Mulcaire’s pay, the prosecutor continued. “The question is, didn’t anybody ever ask ‘What are we paying this chap for?’,” Edis concluded.
He also emphasized that NOTW staff knew that Mulcaire worked for the paper. He cited a profile of the former soccer player in the NOTW itself that mentioned Mulcaire worked for the paper’s special investigations team. While Brooks in the past said she had never heard of Mulcaire until he got arrested, “It clearly wasn’t a secret” that he did work for the tabloid, Edis said.
Edis summarized that while not all requests from a defendant that Mulcaire help them resulted in a successful hack. But he said various documents of interactions between Mulcaire and News of the World top editors and invoices typically labeled as “assists” were “evidence against all the defendants.”
After playing an audio tape of Mulcaire calling a cellphone provider to find out someone’s voicemail passcode, Edis focused on the three e-mails that led to the hacking investigation. One of the three e-mails from April 2006 referred to member of parliament Tessa Jowell and her husband, David Mills, who at the time was accused of being involved in a bribery case linked to Italian media mogul and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The second e-mail referred to Lord Frederick Windsor and mentioned that Edmondson could “press * and pin.” Edis said jurors would have to decide whether Mulcaire could have e-mailed that note to Edmondson for any reason other than to tell him how to hack a phone.
The third e-mail referred to an adviser to a former deputy prime minister who back then was accused of having an affair.
Brooks wore a gray suit and white blouse Thursday. Coulson wore a gray suit and white shirt with a dark red tie. After a 20-minute break during the morning session, Brooks returned to the dock with a mug of water and cups, filling up cups for some of her co-defendants.
Just as on Wednesday, Kuttner, who has health issues, wasn’t in the dock Thursday.
One e-mail exchange that Edis cited Thursday also provided a deeper look behind the scenes of the NOTW‘s hunt for scoops. He said Edmondson e-mailed Coulson that he had a mobile number for a woman who was at the time reported to have had an affair with a top politician.
“I want to shock her with a [big number]. How are your pockets?” Edmondson wrote to Coulson amid plans to get her to write her story for the paper, the jury heard. Edis said Coulson replied that same minute: “Start at £100,000.”
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