Brooks: I was "rubber stamp" for illegal payments to official

LONDON, March 10 Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:43am EDT

LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch's former British newspaper chief, told a London court on Monday it did not occur to her that one of her reporter's contacts, paid tens of thousands of pounds for exclusive military stories, was a public official.

Under cross-examination at the Old Bailey, Brooks denied inventing rules regarding illegal payments to officials, but agreed she had merely been a "rubber stamp" when authorising some 40,000 pounds ($67,000) in pay-outs to the military source.

The former chief executive of News Corp.'s British arm News International and ex-editor of two of its titles is on trial accused of conspiracy to hack phones, authorising illegal payments to public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She denies all charges.

Appearing for an 11th day in the witness box, Brooks was quizzed on payments made by the Sun newspaper during her editorship to a Ministry of Defence official.

The court has heard she approved 40,000 pounds in cash payments for reports , covering stories to do with the British military across the world, written by one of the paper's journalists who cannot be named for legal reasons.

The jury has also been shown emails he sent asking for approval for the payments to his "number one military contact". Brooks often responded to these emails in just minutes.

"It never occurred to you she (the source) might be a public official," prosecutor Andrew Edis asked her.

"No it didn't," Brooks said, repeatedly saying the reporter was known for his good military contacts and that she had assumed the source was not a public official.

"You really were just acting as a rubber stamp weren't you," Edis put to her.

"Yes," she replied.

During earlier testimony, Brooks has admitted paying officials for stories but said there had to be an overwhelming public interest in doing so. She agreed that most of the stories for which the reporter had paid the MoD official did not reach that bar.

Earlier on Monday, Brooks said she had never sanctioned payment to a serving police officer after the jury was shown a series of emails from reporters asking for cash payments for sources who might have been in the police.

"I don't think the Sun made any corrupt payments to police officers during my editorship," she said, clarifying evidence she gave last week in which she had used the phrase "rarely".

She said there might have been occasions when police officers were paid for tips unrelated to their line of duty.

Edis suggested her explanation had been invented to fit around the emails shown to the jury.

"No, it's not invented," she said, adding she had wanted to be "absolutely accurate".

She said there were no firm rules at the Sun, but reporters would know not to pay public officials unless it was clearly in the public interest.

"I can't believe there's one journalist in Fleet Street who doesn't know that is the case," she said.

Her trial and that of six others continues.

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