October 30, 2013 7:37 pm

Question in phone-hacking case is who knew what

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Downing Street's former director of communications and News Of The World editor Andy Coulson arrives at the Old Bailey for the trial of conspiracy to hack phones on October 30 2013 in London, England©Getty

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrives at court

“There was phone hacking. Who knew?” That was the question Andrew Edis QC put to the jury trying Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and others as he opened the prosecution case against them in one of the most high-profile criminal trials of recent times.

How far up the News International hierarchy the conspiracy to intercept voicemails extended was a matter for them to decide, said Mr Edis as he told them a number of former news editors had already admitted guilt.

The prosecution alleged that the two former editors of the News of the World, which closed down in July 2011 after revelations that it had hacked the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, must have known about the extent of illegal voicemail interception. If they had not noticed, “what on earth were they doing?” he asked. “They controlled the purse strings,” he said.

The prosecution case centres around the role of Glenn Mulcaire who was asked by various journalists at the News of the World to access the voicemail message of celebrities and even journalists at rival newspapers.

The court heard that Mr Mulcaire, who was convicted of phone hacking along with former reporter Clive Goodman in 2006, was “very good at finding out people’s codes”. Others “did it” too, he said, including Ian Edmondson, a former news editor who is also standing trial. He told the jury Mr Mulcaire kept detailed notebooks of his work, including dates, targets and the initials of journalists who commissioned him going back as far as 2001. He alleged that the notebooks implicated journalists including those who have pleaded guilty to conspiracy of voicemail interception such as Greg Miskiw and Neville Thurlbeck and later on new recruits such as James Weatherup took up the practice when they joined the newspaper.

“How did that happen if senior management were not involved?” Mr Edis asked the jury adding there was “an awful lot of tasking of Glenn Mulcaire”.

He said that while News International paid Mr Mulcaire £100,000 a year, which “must have acquired high level approval”, the company did not keep records of what he was producing “so there was very little evidence about what he was doing”.

Mr Mulcaire’s tactics extended to hacking the voicemails of friends and associates of public figures including model Kate Moss and David Blunkett.

Mr Edis also alleged that the case would show that some public servants had sold private information to the newspapers including the Sun.

The third type of alleged wrongdoing in the trial was “hiding stuff” or perverting the course of justice, he alleged. In July 2011, as a “storm of publicity” gathered following the revelations about the Milly Dowler case, Mrs Brooks allegedly conspired with those closest to her to hide evidence, including two boxes of notebooks.

Much of the alleged cover-up took place immediately before and after the final News of the World went to print and the newsroom was then “closed down as a crime scene”.

The jury also heard that Ms Brooks whilst editor of the Sun is alleged to have “approved payments in cash to public officials, quite large sums”. This included an alleged £40,000 payment to an official at the Ministry of Defence.

Ms Brooks faces five charges of criminal wrongdoing including two counts of perverting the course of justice along with her ex-secretary Cheryl Carter, husband Charlie and Mark Hanna, former head of security at News International.

She also faces one charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and a further charge of conspiracy to intercept mobile phone voicemail messages along with co-defendants Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of News of the World and Ian Edmondson, former news editor, and Andy Coulson.

Mr Coulson faces two other charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office along with Clive Goodman, another News of the World reporter. All eight defendants deny the charges against them. The case continues.

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