Hacking Trial: Prosecution Makes Opening Statement

Rebekah Brooks

UPDATED: Andrew Edis said four people have already pleaded guilty to hacking charges and argued former "News of the World" editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson must have known about the practice.

LONDON – The prosecution on Wednesday afternoon began its opening arguments in Britain's first major phone hacking trial since the scandal re-erupted two years ago, kicking off a process that is expected to last up to six months.

The prosecution said that it could prove that senior editors were part of a phone hacking conspiracy and argued that the top editors must have also known. In addition to hacking charges, some of the eight defendants in the trial also face charges of bribing public officials and hindering the course of justice.

The prosecution also said here Wednesday that three former top editors of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, which is at the center of the hacking allegations and used to be part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, and a private investigator earlier this year pleaded guilty to phone hacking conspiracy charges, which hadn't been made public before. They are Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, as well as investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

At the current trial, two former senior executives in Murdoch's media empire -- former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson -- and six others face charges stemming from the allegation that employees at the now-shuttered Murdoch-owned tabloid eavesdropped on the voicemails of celebrities, royals, crime victims and others in their search for exclusives. The hacking scandal led Murdoch to shut down the 168-year-old newspaper.

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Prosecutor Andrew Edis started his opening statement at 2:17 p.m. London time on Wednesday and continued for two hours and five minutes. His prepared remarks ran for about 190 pages, but he told the court he wouldn't deliver them exactly as planned.
Early on, Edis emphasized that the trial was not about doubting the value of press freedom. The trial "is not an attack on the freedom of the press or the practice of journalism," he told the jury. "It is important in a free country that there is a free press."
He added that the prosecution doesn't want the trial to be viewed as a discussion about newspapers. "We accept that they are a good thing," Edis said.
But he emphasized that "criminal law applies to all of us," including journalists. "There is no justification of any kind for journalists for getting involved in phone hacking." He added that hacking was "an intrusion into people's privacy," which was against the law.
Edis particularly argued that no matter how senior the editors on trial were – Brooks and Coulson as former editors of the News of the World, for example – they must have known about payments for phone hacking and the use of the practice in their newsroom.
If they did their job properly, "they must have known," especially given that the tabloid was only published weekly, he argued. "It wasn't War And Peace." And he said the hacking wasn't done out of the same motives as a whistle-blower who may have noble motivations.

The prosecution believes that the people in charge of the budget and purse strings at the News of the World at least knew about the hacking practice and tolerated it, Edis summarized. He told the jurors it was on them to decide whether hacking was possible without the knowledge of the top editors, especially Brooks and Coulson.

"We say we will be able to show that there was phone hacking at the News of the World, that Glenn Mulcaire did it, that Clive Goodman did it, and that Ian Edmonson did it," he said. "You will have to decide whether it could happen without the editor knowing."

Edis also told the 12 jurors – 9 women and 3 men – that they would be presented with a lot of material, but wouldn't have to remember it all, especially early on. "This is not a memory test," he said. "This is a long trial."
He also started outlining some key definitions and the three types of charges in the trial - conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to bribe public officials and conspiracy to interfere with the police's investigation, also called "perverting the course of justice."

Among the celebrities who Edis mentioned as alleged targets of phone hacking were Paul McCartney, Jude Law and Sienna Miller.

The prosecutor, who represents Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, began his remarks by greeting the judge ("my lord") and jury and introducing the eight defendants, who were seated in the dock in the back of the courtroom, and their legal team.

Edis started off with Ian Edmondson, the former news chief of the News of the World, who sat on the far left from the judge's point of view.

He continued with Brooks, who wore a dark business outfit and white blouse, and Coulson, who was dressed in a grey suit and dark tie. He used to be her deputy before himself becoming editor of the News of the World.

Edis next mentioned Stuart Kuttner, the former managing editor of the now-defunct tabloid who wasn't present. The prosecutor mentioned that due to his health, he was expected to be in and out of the courtroom throughout the trial, which is expected to last five to six months. Former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman was introduced next, followed by Brooks' former assistant Cheryl Carter, Brooks husband Charlie and ex-News International head of security Mark Hanna.

Edis quipped that he nearly forgot to introduce his own team before outlining the charges against all defendants.

Edis started his introduction to the case for the jury by saying that the phone hacking and related charges that the trial would revolve around were the result of a 2011 probe into the News of the World. While that was a big media story at the time, "it doesn't matter whether you know anything about it or not," he told the jury.

The prosecution will continue its opening statement on Thursday morning. First discussions of evidence are expected next week.

Edis on Wednesday cited emails from defendants, notes from someone alleged to have taken hacking orders and other documents as among the material that will be presented during the trial. And he said the jury would see proof that Edmondson also had ensured that people at rival newspapers, including the Mail on Sunday, were hacked.

Edis said that the guilty pleas from the other former staffers helped prove that there was hacking going on at the tabloid, telling the jury that Mulcaire, "was very good finding out personal codes" that people used to access their voicemails messages remotely.

Brooks was once again holding an iPad during part of Wednesday afternoon's proceedings and looking through binders that Edis referenced at other times. Coulson used a notepad and pen at times.

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