LONDON, March 3 (Reuters) - Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News Corp.’s British newspaper business, told a London court on Monday she thought the company’s “rogue reporter” defence to phone-hacking looked shaky in 2009 when she landed the job as chief executive.
Brooks also told London’s Old Bailey court that Rupert Murdoch’s News International funded the legal bills for a man convicted of phone-hacking at one of their tabloids to keep secret any details about who he said might also have been involved.
Brooks is on trial accused of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages on mobile phones, authorising illegal payments to public officials and perverting the course of justice. She denies all charges.
Giving evidence for a seventh day, Brooks, 45, was asked about an article in the Guardian newspaper from July 2009 which detailed background to a 1 million pound ($1.68 million)settlement between News International and Gordon Taylor, the former head of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Taylor was named as a victim of phone-hacking in 2007 when private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper, and the tabloid’s royal editor Clive Goodman were convicted.
Following the convictions, News International stated Goodman was a “rogue exception”, the court heard, a phrase that Brooks said was first proffered by the News of the World’s then editor Colin Myler.
The Guardian article, published when Brooks had been appointed chief executive but before she had taken up the post, said phone-hacking was widespread and not limited to Mulcaire and Goodman.
Within a fortnight, further details emerged including an email sent by a junior reporter at the paper with the transcripts of 35 separate messages left by or for Gordon Taylor.
“FOR NEVILLE” EMAIL
“Hello, this is the transcript for Neville”, the email from January 2005 said.
Brooks said she understood that Neville referred to Neville Thurlbeck, a senior reporter on the paper who has now admitted phone-hacking offences.
Asked what the effect of this email had been, she said: ”It certainly showed just by glancing on it ... that the statement, the emphaticness of the company’s position that nobody else knew what Glenn Mulcaire was doing was looking shaky.
“Because this was an email from someone at the News of the World allegedly for someone else at the News of the World. This document obviously showed, if not involvement, a wider knowledge.”
Brooks also told the court she had agreed a deal with publicist Max Clifford, who had also been identified as an original Mulcaire hacking victim in 2007, to settle his legal action against the paper.
As part of his litigation, Clifford’s lawyers were pushing for Mulcaire to disclose who else at the News of the World knew about hacking and she told the court there was concern at News International that a judge might force Mulcaire to give names.
The court heard that News International’s legal chief Tom Crone had agreed to fund Mulcaire’s legal team to fight the order to disclose names.
“Our decision at News International was to settle as confidentially as possible to prevent further damage reputationally and financially,” Brooks told the court.
“We had no visibility on what he may or may not say,” she said, describing Mulcaire as an unreliable witness.
In the end, Brooks reached a deal with Clifford personally to provide him with work from News International papers and to reimburse him for the years when there had been a ban on using his services.
The trial of Brooks and six others continues.