Rebekah Brooks Not on Trial for Her Work for Rupert Murdoch, Lawyer Says

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The former News International CEO takes the stand to discuss her childhood and early career as the defense starts making its case in the phone-hacking trial.

LONDON – After the prosecution in the phone-hacking trial here made its case over the past three and a half months, Rebekah Brooks spoke from the witness stand for the first time Thursday as her lawyer started her defense work.

Her lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw, told the jurors in his introductory comments that they must decide whether Brooks committed any of the crimes she is charged with, but reminded them that she was not on trial for having worked for Rupert Murdoch or having been the editor of a tabloid.

Brooks, wearing a dark blue dress and white cardigan, sat down on the stand around 10:35 a.m. local time and was sworn in, promising to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

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The former CEO of the U.K. newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. -- which has since been split into two companies, News Corp (no period) and 21st Century Fox -- is charged with several counts, including phone hacking and obstruction of justice.

"She is not being tried because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper," Laidlaw told the 12 jurors, highlighting that views on tabloids "differ." He continued: "Neither is she on trial for having worked for Rupert Murdoch's company."

That means that she also cannot be tried for any of her former company's strategies or policies. Laidlaw also added that the jury shouldn't judge Brooks "for any political views she made hold" or "for the support her newspapers gave to one [political] party or another."

The counsel also emphasized in addressing the jury that the prosecution has the burden of proving Brooks' guilt. "This is your case and your decision" whether charges are "fair and balanced" or not, he said.

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Without providing further details, he also said that in his closing statement, he would say "a lot more" about how the prosecution and police have treated Brooks in the hacking proceedings.

Saying that the jury would now get to see Brooks "as she is, not how she is described elsewhere," Laidlaw then started his interaction with his client by asking her about her full name (Rebekah Mary Brooks, nee Wade) and birth year (1968).

Asked to briefly discuss her childhood, she told the jury that she was an only child. Her father was a gardener, while her mother was a personal assistant at an engineering firm. She confirmed that her parents got divorced in her early 20s after her mother left her father.

Asked how she ended up getting interested in journalism, Brooks mentioned her grandmother, saying: "She liked writing and wrote poetry for a local newspaper."

She said that her mother once told her that that she had expressed a desire to become a journalist when she was 8.

Laidlaw then took Brooks through her early career, including her first newspaper job at age 14 before getting a full-time job at the Sunday magazine of Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World.

Laidlaw described her "rapid rise" from the tabloid's features unit to the post of deputy editor at the age of 27 as she said she enjoyed handling celebrity interviews and "real-life" stories.

As they discussed her jobs and roles, Brooks several times mentioned journalism jargon that Laidlaw asked her to explain in layman's terms.

Later in the day, Brooks recounted advice that Murdoch gave her about how she should think about media appearances as an editor: "The advice was, 'Keep your head down,' " the The Guardian quoted her as saying. " 'Don't court publicity.' "

Twitter: @georgszalai