LONDON (Reuters) - Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper arm, was involved in an elaborate but botched plan with her husband to hide computers and documents from police investigating phone-hacking, a London court heard on Monday.
Brooks, a former editor of Murdoch’s News of the World and Sun newspapers, also arranged with her personal assistant for seven boxes full of her archived notebooks to be spirited away before detectives could get hold of them, prosecutor Andrew Edis told England’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey.
Brooks was arrested in July 2011 and later charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemails on mobile phones, authorizing illegal payments to public officials, and perverting the course of justice by hampering the police inquiry. She denies the charges.
She is on trial with another former editor of the paper, Andy Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director and denies conspiracy to hack phones and make illegal payments to officials for information.
Also on trial are Brooks’ personal assistant Cheryl Carter, her racehorse trainer husband Charlie, and Mark Hanna, ex-head of security at News International, who all deny charges of perverting the course of justice.
In July 2011, News International, the British arm of News Corp, became engulfed in a “media firestorm” after news that journalists had hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, Edis said.
The furor led to the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World and Brooks’s resignation from the company.
The court was told that Hanna had organized an operation named “Blackhawk” to protect Brooks and her husband, both good friends of Cameron, that led to attempts to hide material.
On July 17, the day Rebekah Brooks was first arrested but before police could begin searches, Edis said her husband had been recorded on closed circuit TV hiding a bag and a laptop beside bins in the underground car park of their London flat.
These were collected by Hanna and taken away. After numerous contacts during the day, it was arranged for the computer and other material to be returned, Edis said, and later one of Hanna’s team - pretending he was delivering pizzas - put them back behind the bins in a black plastic bag.
“Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot,” the security contractor wrote in a text message to a colleague.
Edis explained that the Broadsword phrase was a reference to the film “Where Eagles Dare”, which starred Richard Burton as a British spy.
But the plan went awry. The following morning, before it could be retrieved, the black bag was found by a cleaner, who gave it to his manager. The manager later called the police.
“This whole exercise was quite complicated and quite risky and liable to go wrong, as it did,” Edis told the jury. “The only plausible explanation was it was designed to hide material so the police wouldn’t get it.”
He said it turned out there had been nothing incriminating on the computer, but that did not mean the activities were not designed to hinder the police.
The court also heard that seven boxes of notebooks belonging to Rebekah Brooks were removed from News International archives by her assistant, Carter, after the hacking of schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was revealed.
“You can imagine the extremely anxious if not panic-stricken approach to these developments that must have been going on,” Edis said. The boxes were taken to Carter’s home and not seen again, he added.
Coulson’s lawyer Timothy Langdale told the court his client admitted things had gone wrong under his editorship of the paper, but that he had never been party to any phone-hacking.
“Although he might wish he had made some different decisions, he did not commit these offences,” Langdale said.
He said Coulson’s role at the News of the World had been far-reaching, and that he could not be expected to have known about every story in the paper.
He added that Coulson had also had his phone hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for the News of the World.
“Both a conspirator and victim at the same time? The two things do not sit easily together, do they?” he told the jury.
The trial continues.
Editing by Kevin Liffey