LONDON Feb 28 Rebekah Brooks, the ex-chief
executive of News Corp.'s British newspaper arm, told a London
court on Friday she had paid a public official for a story about
former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein planning to attack Britain
with the poison anthrax.
Brooks, who is on trial on charges of sanctioning such
illegal payments, said she agreed to pay for the 1998 report
when she was deputy editor of Rupert Murdoch's Sun tabloid
because there was an "overwhelming public interest" to do so.
However, she denies approving almost 40,000 pounds
($66,700)in payments to a Ministry of Defence official for a
series of stories for which she on trial. She also denies
charges of conspiracy to hack phones and perverting the course
On Thursday, Brooks admitted she had authorised payments to
public officials, something which is illegal, on a "half a
dozen" occasions from 1998 to 2009, a period which covered her
time as time as editor or deputy of Murdoch's British tabloids,
the Sun and News of the World.
Appearing for a sixth day in the witness box at London's Old
Bailey court, Brooks said the public official, who was later
revealed to be a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, had
called the paper about the threat from Saddam and the deadly
"They said they had reason to believe ... that the
government or the security services were covering up a plot by
Saddam Hussein to bring in anthrax into the country for the
start of a terrorist campaign attack," she said.
"It was very quickly brought to my attention because it was
a public official and they were asking for money in return for
She told the court that she was called to Downing Street for
a high-level meeting with senior security and political figures
who confirmed its veracity.
She said after that meeting she agreed to pay for the story
as it had satisfied her criteria that there had to be an
overwhelming public interest.
The source for the story was later traced following an
investigation into the leak and prosecuted for breaking the
Official Secrets Act, she said.
The court was also told how she missed out on one of the
biggest news stories in Britain in recent years, a scandal about
parliamentary expenses, because she had dithered about whether
to pay a public official.
She said the Sun news team had come to her in 2009 to say
that full details of lawmakers' expenses were available but it
was going to cost a lot of money.
"I drove my news team crazy with my indecision. I should
have gone ahead but didn't ... so it ended up at the Daily
Telegraph and they did a brilliant job on it," she said.
The revelations lawmakers had claimed expenses for
everything from pornographic films and tennis court repairs to
moat-cleaning and dog food caused an uproar.
It subsequently dominated the British news agenda for
months, leading to the resignation of lawmakers and in some
cases their imprisonment.
Brooks, who said it featured "quite high of her list" of
judgment errors, noted to the court that neither the police nor
prosecutors took any action because of the high-level of public
Her trial and that of six other continues.