Brooks defence urges jury to ignore 'downright cruelty and vitriol' around case

Jurors in the hacking trial were urged to ignore the "downright cruelty and vitriol" surrounding the case when they consider verdicts on Rebekah Brooks (pictured: Reuters).

Jonathan Laidlaw QC, defending the former News International chief executive, appealed to jurors during his closing speech to "focus on the evidence" alone.

He invited jurors to imagine viewing the trial as a loved one in the public gallery.

"From your position as a loved one you will be all too painfully aware the case has been heard against the backdrop of significant attention from the media," Laidlaw said.

"Opinions have been expressed with views running from criticism to comment, through inaccuracy and bias, to downright cruelty and vitriol.

"From up there you would worry about the possible impact on the jury. Can anybody be independent enough, strong enough, to avoid being influenced?

"Your fear would be whatever is done and achieved for her from the courtroom, she is starting at a disadvantage some yards behind the starting line and cannot win.

"Worse still, as you watch this trial unfold you have seen the prosecution construct a case not on direct evidence but around inference."

The prosecution had been based on "theory first, evidence later", Laidlaw went on.

"Every time one theory has been contradicted, you have seen the prosecution change its case – twisting and turning to try and find any way to make themselves right.

"We have seen police officers mislead in order to protect the ultimate prosecution theory in this case – Rebekah Brooks must be guilty no matter what."

He went on: "This case has been described as the trial of the century.

"Much nonsense, complete nonsense, has been spoken about these proceedings and awful things have been said about Rebekah Brooks herself over the last few years."

But he said Brooks sought no "special treatment", just that the jury to be "fair-minded" and give "complete focus on the evidence".

There was, he said, "no smoking gun" to suggest that Brooks was guilty, and the case against her was "circumstantial".

Laidlaw told jurors that private detective Glenn Mulcaire's hacking was "rare" during Brooks's editorship of the News of the World.

The evidence showed only one story published from hacking during Brooks's time at the helm of the Sunday tabloid, he said.

That was the Milly Dowler story – which was published when she was on holiday in Dubai thousands of miles away.

He told jurors: "Ask yourself the question – can it be a coincidence that in her three years editing the News of the World there is not a single phone-hacking story in a paper she edited?"

Brooks had not taken hacking to the Sun when she left the News of the World – which is now defunct – to edit its daily sister paper.

"The prosecution evidence has fallen a long way short of proving hacking was prolific under Mrs Brooks," Laidlaw told jurors.

"That matters a lot. If hacking rarely occurred under Mrs Brooks, then the prosecution simply cannot prove from the volume of hacking that she must have known."

Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, and her six co-defendants, deny all the charges against them.

Laidlaw pointed out telephone data which showed that Brooks had no contact with anyone at the News of the World before Mulcaire was tasked to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemails in 2002, while Brooks was in Dubai.

"There is simply no evidence at all that anybody at the News of the World disturbed her holiday about anything prior to April 11, let alone consulted her about a hacking of Milly Dowler's phone," he told the jury.

"On the evidence, they did not consult her and if there is one thing you can be confident about in this case it is Rebekah Brooks is not guilty of the phone-hacking of Milly's phone. Whether she would have agreed to it or not is almost academic. They did not consult her."

The lawyer turned to the February 2004 draft letter Brooks wrote which exposed her affair with Andy Coulson, and told the jury that the prosecution interpretation that the two editors shared what they knew was far too "black and white".

He said: "The letter is of course completely true in that it expresses the pain Mrs Brooks felt when she wrote it. But we all know in the immediate aftermath of a break up of a relationship there can be a tendency to over emphasise the importance of what you have lost, even to yourself.

"They always feel like the person you cannot live without at the moment they tell you you will have to live without them."

Laidlaw said both parties were married at the time and the reality of any extramarital affair was that it was "dysfunctional".

He said there may be many things both parties kept from each other, such as their "real lives at home".

Brooks was in no position to say how much Coulson shared with her, Laidlaw said.

Not only did he keep the Dowler hacking from her, Coulson also did not say he knew about the hacking involving David Blunkett when Clive Goodman was arrested in 2006, the court heard.

Laidlaw said there was no evidence that Brooks colluded with Coulson over the hacking story about Blunkett's affair in August 2004 when they were rival editors.

Before Coulson went to confront Blunkett he exchanged texts with Brooks of a "highly personal nature".

He told the jury: "You cannot safely conclude the phone contact the next day was any other than light-hearted, affectionate and reassuring."

The trial was adjourned until 10am tomorrow.

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