Top News Corp. Executive Admits Unethical Behavior In Third Month Of Phone Hacking Trial

The trial of several News Corp. employees accused of being involved in the widespread phone hacking scandal has now entered its third month. British royalty, actors, politicians and crime victims all had their privacy compromised. In February, the prosecution -- which rested its case during the month -- alleged that former Prime Minister Tony Blair offered to “secretly advise” News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch as the scandal unfolded. Testimony from former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks supplied the bulk of information for the month, as the defense began its presentation. Among other revelations, Brooks admitted to authorizing “half a dozen” payments to public officials during her time working as an editor at The Sun.

During the first two months of the trial in December and January, the prosecutor presented evidence that alleged that former News International editors and executives Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, and Stuart Kuttner were involved in ordering and then subsequently covering up the hacking. Actress Sienna Miller testified about the intrusion into her voicemail, a News of the World reporter said officials knew about the hacking, and jurors were shown footage of an executive's spouse hiding a laptop.

Here are several things we learned at the phone hacking trial in February:

  • Jurors were told that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair allegedly offered to advise News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch during the scandal. An email from Rebekah Brooks to James Murdoch (Rupert Murdoch's son and a News Corp. executive at the time) said that she had asked Blair for advice and he told her to “keep strong and definitely (take) sleeping pills.” Brooks also said that Blair was available to them as “as an unofficial adviser” but that the information “needs to be between us.”

  • Brooks admitted that she had authorized payments to officials in exchange for news stories on “a handful of occasions, half a dozen” when she was an editor at The Sun. Such payments are illegal under British law, and her attorney said he would later offer a further explanation. 

  • Brooks blamed the “speed of decisions” for several lapses of ethical judgement at The Sun under her leadership. These included a headline reading “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” attached to a story about boxer Frank Bruno being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and printing a doctored photograph depicting former Labour Party minister Clare Short as topless after Short opposed The Sun's daily topless pictorial in its Page 3 feature.

  • The prosecution rested its case on February 18, and the defense began presenting its case to the jury, which is expected to last into the Spring.

  • Brooks was cleared of one of her charges, which was allegedly paying an official to obtain a bikini photograph of Prince William at a James Bond-themed party.

  • Brooks told the court that she did not know about News of the World's $153,000 contract with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire (who did the actual phone hacking).

  • Brooks denied that she had sanctioned hacking into the voicemails of missing teenager Milly Dowler, and testified that her reaction was “shock, horror, everything” when the intrusion was eventually disclosed.

  • Brooks said she turned down a police offer to assist with investigating phone hacking due to circumstances she described as “complexities on the corporate level” of News Corp., particularly the fact that the phone hackers had been in the employ of the company while breaking the law.