Hacking Trial: Judge Interrupts Case Summary Due to Juror's Migraine

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Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks

Topics discussed in court Thursday included the case of a missing schoolgirl that caused the hacking scandal to erupt and the relationship between former "News of the World" editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.

LONDON – The judge in the phone hacking trial on Thursday continued summarizing the seven-months long trial before wrapping up early due to a juror's suffering from a migraine. 

Judge John Saunders had on Wednesday started summarizing key parts of the testimony and key arguments by the prosecution and defense teams. The summarizing, expected to take a few days, is a key part of the procedure in the English court system.  

The jury is expected to start deliberating next week.

The case has seven defendants, including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, two former top lieutenants at the U.K. newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Coulson also used to be communications advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both Coulson and Brooks used to editors of the News of the World, shuttered by Murdoch in 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal. 

The scandal erupted when The Guardian reported that News of the World staffers in 2002 had listened to voice mails left on the mobile phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler, who was found dead later.

The trial has focused on charges of phone hacking, bribery of public officials to get news scoops and a conspiracy to "pervert the course of justice."

The Dowler case was in the spotlight Thursday morning as the judge continued his case summary.

Saunders said that News of the World representatives delayed telling police about Dowler's possible whereabouts for at least a bit. He pointed to evidence presented during the trial that the paper knew about a hacked voice mail suggesting her whereabouts on a Friday, but contacted local police only the following afternoon after starting reporting work on the lead.

"It is perfectly clear the News of the World did not inform the police straight away," the judge said. "The prosecution suggest the News of the World kept the information on the voicemail to themselves in the hope of finding her in time to announce it in the newspaper." When it became clear they were not going to find the girl, the defense lawyers suggested they decided they had no alternative but to contact the police, he added.

Saunders said this will play into jury deliberation as the questions are "who made the decision and who was party to it?"

The judge summarized that one witness who used to work for a recruitment firm said that former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner had called him as part of the reporting on Dowler's whereabouts. The witness had said he didn't remember the name of the editor he talked to, but then recognized Kuttner's voice. The judge said he described the voice as "very distinctive and self-assured," adding it reminded him of "one of my head teachers," a British word for school principal.

The judge juxtaposed that with a comment from Kuttner's lawyer that his client called the police as soon as he found out about the hacked voice mail message. "He doesn't remember it, but that's what he would have done," the judge summarized the lawyer's argument.

The judge told the jurors that they must decide which side of the argument they believe in deciding if Kuttner delayed reaching out to the police.

Then-News of the World editor Brooks was in Dubai on vacation that week, with deputy editor Coulson in charge.

The judge said jurors must decide if Coulson "would have known" details about the Dowler story and that information in it had been obtained by phone hacking. He also said the jury had to look at the evidence to decide whether Brooks knew. 

In that context, the judge said that an affair between Brooks and Coulson, which the prosecution had spoken of during the trial, was "clearly relevant" to the jury deliberations.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai