LONDON (Reuters) - Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers, is due to begin her defense on Wednesday against allegations she was complicit in widespread phone-hacking at the now defunct News of the World weekly.
Brooks, who was so close to the media mogul she was dubbed his fifth daughter, will testify for the first time in the long-running trial after the prosecution formally wraps up its case against her, her husband and five other former Murdoch employees.
The case centers on widespread phone-hacking by journalists at the News of the World Sunday tabloid, which Murdoch closed amid huge public anger in July 2011, and other allegations of crimes by staff on its sister daily paper The Sun.
Brooks, who ran News Corp.’s British newspaper arm News International until July 2011 and had previously edited both papers, denies conspiracy to illegally intercept voicemail messages on mobile phones, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by authorizing illegal payments to public officials, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
During testimony over 14 weeks, prosecutors have detailed evidence of phone-hacking and other alleged crimes by journalists working for Murdoch’s British titles.
The jury has heard that three senior journalists who held news editor roles at the tabloid had admitted phone-hacking offences, while a private detective Glenn Mulcaire who worked for the paper had pleaded guilty to carrying out hacks.
Victims included the wife of future heir-to-the-throne Prince William, Kate Middleton, and his younger brother Harry. Brooks is also said to have approved an illegal payment for a picture of William wearing a bikini to a party.
Those to have taken the stand so far include actor Jude Law and his former girlfriend actress Sienna Miller.
But the most startling disclosure was that Brooks had had an affair with Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor who went on to work as Prime Minister David Cameron’s media chief until 2011 and who is also on trial.
The prosecution’s phone-hacking case against Brooks revolves around the tapping of the mobile of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
News of the Dowler hack in the summer of 2011 caused a “media firestorm” that prompted Murdoch to close the 168-year-old News of the World, then Britain’s biggest-selling paper.
Mulcaire has admitted he hacked Dowler’s phone after the 13-year-old went missing in March 2002, and the court has heard that a News of the World senior executive told police the paper had recordings of her voicemail messages. The tabloid then ran a story quoting them.
Brooks was on holiday at the time, but the prosecution has argued she was in close contact with the paper, including with her then-deputy and lover Coulson, and would have been complicit in what happened.
The Dowler hacking allegation is particularly toxic for Brooks as the public anger it generated ultimately led her to quit her job.
The jury were told threats were made to executives including Brooks at the time, and they received hate mail with phrases such as “rotting in hell would be too good a punishment” and “the universal law of karma will exact its revenge”.
As well as alleging Brooks was involved in phone-hacking, prosecutors have said she had sanctioned illegal payments to public officials, including one for nearly 40,000 pounds ($64,000) to a senior Ministry of Defense official.
The court was also told Brooks and her husband tried to cover up her alleged crimes by hiding computers and other material from detectives before their London apartment was searched.
However, the bag these items were hidden in, along with other personal stuff, including pornographic DVDs, was discovered before they could retrieve it.
Brooks is also accused of arranging for her personal assistant Cheryl Carter to withdraw seven boxes containing her notebooks from News International’s archives days before she resigned. These boxes have never been found, while several of her mobile phones and iPads have also never been recovered.
Carter, Charlie Brooks and News International’s former head of security Mark Hanna deny conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Coulson and Stuart Kuttner, the News of the World’s long-serving managing editor, deny conspiracy to hack phones, and Coulson and the paper’s ex-royal editor Clive Goodman deny conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
The trial is due to last until mid-May.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alistair Lyon