U.K. phone-hacking trial: Blair offered to advise Murdoch amid scandal
Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, arrives at the Central Criminal Court in London where she appears to face charges related to phone hacking, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014 5:40AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9:02AM EST
LONDON -- Jurors at Britain's phone-hacking trial were told Wednesday that former Prime Minister Tony Blair allegedly offered to work as an unofficial adviser to Rupert Murdoch as revelations of illegal phone hacking engulfed the mogul's media empire.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis read aloud an email sent by Rebekah Brooks, then head of Murdoch's British newspapers, to Murdoch's son and deputy James on July 11, 2011.
In it, Brooks says she's asked Blair for advice and been told: "It will pass. Tough up."
She says he told her to "keep strong and definitely (take) sleeping pills."
Brooks also writes that Blair "is available for you, KRM (Rupert Murdoch) and me as an unofficial adviser, but needs to be between us."
She also said Blair told her to set up an external committee into phone hacking, which would "publish a Hutton-style report." The 2004 Hutton Report cleared Blair's government of wrongdoing over its handling of intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Less than a week after sending the email, Brooks was arrested and charged with conspiring to hack phones, bribe officials and obstruct a police investigation.
All seven defendants deny charges of wrongdoing at Murdoch's News of the World and Sun tabloids.
The trials stems from 2011 revelations that News of the World employees eavesdropped on the voicemails of celebrities, politicians, sports figures, royalty and even a murdered 13-year-old girl. Murdoch closed the 168-year-old newspaper amid a wave of public outrage, and the scandal expanded to ensnare Britain's establishment -- exposing a cozy web of ties between powerful politicians, senior police and media executives.
Judge John Saunders said the defence case at the trial of Brooks and six others would open Thursday after a series of legal arguments Wednesday.
The Blair email is the latest twist in a trial that has produced more revelations than a stack of tabloid front pages. The key points:
Prosecutors allege that News of the World journalists, with consent from top editors, colluded to hack phones on a vast scale in a frenzy to get scoops. They say this happened when Brooks edited the newspaper from 2000 to 2003, and under Andy Coulson from 2003 to 2007. Coulson, who became Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief, is also on trial.
The defence does not dispute that hacking took place. Three former News of the World news editors have pleaded guilty, as has Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator employed by the newspaper.
It's the scale that is striking. A police witness told the court he found evidence that the News of the World hacked the phone accounts of 282 people 6,813 times. Mulcaire was paid about 100,000 pounds (now about $168,000) a year -- largely, prosecutors say, for his phone-hacking prowess.
Jurors heard about efforts to hack the telephones of Prince Harry, Kate Middleton and royal aides, as well as of senior politicians and celebrities including Paul McCartney.
The defence will try to convince jurors that Brooks and Coulson were unaware of the practice, and that as busy editors they were not individually responsible for every story.
Police have already revealed that Mulcaire sought to hack the phones of Brooks and Coulson. Coulson's lawyer, Timothy Langdale, has asked the jury to consider how his client could be "both conspirator and victim at the same time."
Brooks and Coulson also face charges of conspiring to bribe public officials for information.
Several celebrities whose private lives were exposed by the tabloids have already testified in the trial. Actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller recounted how their relationship -- and Miller's fling with Daniel Craig -- became headline news.
The private lives of Brooks and Coulson also made the front pages, when prosecutors revealed that the pair had a secret six-year affair covering a period when hacking took place. Prosecutor Andrew Edis said he was not seeking to be salacious, but disclosed details of their relationship to show that "what Mr. Coulson knew, Mrs. Brooks knew too."
CLOAK AND DAGGER
At times the evidence had touches of a spy film -- or a farce.
Prosecutors used phone records, recovered emails and security-camera footage to reconstruct the day before Brooks' arrest in 2011, when they say Brooks, her husband Charles and others conspired to hide notebooks, computers and other evidence from police.
A security man, pretending to deliver pizzas, hid some of the items in a garbage bag behind trash bins in the parking garage at the couple's London apartment. He then sent a text to his superior -- adapting a quote from the war movie "Where Eagles Dare" -- that read, "Broadsword calling Danny Boy: The pizza is delivered and the chicken is in the pot."
A cleaner found the stashed items and handed them to police. Among the items in a briefcase belonging to Charles Brooks were a Wimbledon souvenir program, the newsletter of the British Kunekune Pig Society and several pornographic DVDs.
The jury has already heard from dozens of witnesses -- including detectives, journalists, royal aides and movie stars -- and sifted through vast amounts of evidence, from recorded voicemail messages to telephone records, emails and payment details.
Judge John Saunders has told jurors they will most likely be sent to consider their verdicts in mid-May.