(updates with more evidence)
By Jack Stubbs
LONDON, April 11 The mother of murdered
schoolgirl Sarah Payne took to the witness stand in Britain's
phone-hacking trial on Friday to tell a jury that Rupert
Murdoch's News of the World tabloid had been a "force for good".
Sara Payne, whose daughter was abducted and murdered 14
years ago, appeared as a character witness at the Old Bailey and
said staff at the weekly tabloid had supported her and worked to
secure changes in the law regarding child sex offenders.
She said the paper's former editor Rebekah Brooks and
ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner had become good friends who
cared for her family.
Kuttner and Brooks are on trial with the paper's former
editor and ex-media chief of British Prime Minister David
Cameron, Andy Coulson. They are accused of conspiracy to
intercept voicemails on mobile phones. All three deny all
Brooks and Coulson also face charges over illegal payments
to public officials, which they deny.
Payne said she had met the former News International staff
soon after her daughter's murder. They had provided advice on
media contact, worked on the Sarah's Law campaign for changes in
the law regarding child sex offenders and supported her to write
a series of columns for the newspaper.
Writing in the final edition of the tabloid on July 10 2011,
before it closed following allegations of widespread
phone-hacking and payments to public officials by its
journalists, Payne said: "It is easy to forget in these dark
times, that the News of the World has often been a force for
good, and that has more than anything to do with the people who
work for it."
Asked to describe Kuttner's character, she said: "Stuart is
a gentlemen: he is everything my parents taught me about being a
gentleman and having manner and etiquette. He is a good guy."
She said Brooks, 45, had worked with politicians and rival
newspapers to control the media frenzy surrounding her family.
"I can't really describe what we were going through at the
time, it was just traumatic," she said. "This was a world that
was crazy and it was madness.
"Rebekah and her team would always look after us ... Rebekah
is a very sweet girl, she's very sweet natured."
Payne is the latest in a series of high-profile character
witnesses for Kuttner, who was managing editor at the News of
the World for 22 years until 2009. The jury has previously heard
from former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who said the
74-year-old newspaper veteran was a man of integrity.
Former director of the British Press Complaints Commission
Lord Guy Black also addressed the jury on Friday, saying he had
often sought Kuttner's advice on major stories such as the death
of Princess Diana in 1997 and the Omagh bombing a year later.
"He is in many ways the reporter's reporter," said Black.
"Intrepid and courageous in pursuit of the story but also
immensely professional ... he would never, ever play fast and
loose with the rules."
The court has previously heard that private detective Glenn
Mulcaire, who was convicted of phone-hacking in 2007, was paid
by the newspaper to intercept mobile phone voicemail messages in
the search for stories.
Kuttner, whom the jury has been told is suffering from ill
health, has been accused by prosecutors of concealing payments
to Mulcaire from senior News International executives.
He broke the payments of as much as 100,000 pounds
($167,000) a year into weekly cash instalments and instructed
journalists to falsify the names of confidential sources, the
jury was told.
"The reason for that is because his activity was criminal
phone-hacking, and you knew it," said lead prosecutor Andrew
Kuttner replied: "Such activity is as remote from my concept
of newspapers as it is possible to be.
"I was employed by News International on the staff for 29
years. I received the very warmest letter from Mr Rupert Murdoch
on my retirement. I completely reject your suggestion," he said.
The trial continues.
(editing by Stephen Addison)