Jury in phone-hacking trial warned not to read Private Eye or follow the case on social media

Jurors hearing the case of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and ex-spin doctor Andy Coulson were told today that "British justice is on trial".

Mr Justice Saunders gave the panel of nine women and three men at the Old Bailey detailed instructions after they were sworn in today, warning them to consider the case only on the evidence and arguments presented in court.

He made particular reference to the cover of the current edition of Private Eye, telling them to ignore what he called a joke "in especially bad taste".

The judge told them: "I'm going to give you some extremely important directions. They are always important, but they could not be more important than they are in this particular case. In this case in a way not only are the defendants on trial, but British justice is on trial."

He added: "It is absolutely vital that you decide this case solely on the evidence and the arguments that you hear in court."

The judge warned them that there had been an unprecedented amount of publicity previously about the case, some of which was "offensive and demeaning" to some of the defendants.

He then showed them a copy of Private Eye, saying: "Unfortunately Private Eye has seen fit today to put out their November edition. You will undoubtedly see it on the newstands, so I can show it to you.

"It bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover. It's meant to be satire. You ignore it. It has no serious input and it is not relevant to your considerations.

"It is one of those things that you will have to ignore – a joke which in the circumstances of today is a joke in especially bad taste."

Jurors were warned not to discuss the case with anyone outside their 12, including on social media such as Twitter or Facebook, and were warned of previous cases where jurors were jailed for contempt of court for breaching instructions about discussing the case online.

The jurors for the trial, that could last up to six months at the Old Bailey, are expected to be selected from a pool of potential members this afternoon.

Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, and Coulson, 45, from Preston in Kent, are both accused of conspiracy to intercept communications in the course of their transmission.

They allegedly conspired with former News of the World (NotW) head of news Ian Edmondson, 44, from Raynes Park, south-west London, the tabloid's ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, from Woodford Green, Essex, and others to illegally access voicemails between October 3 2000 and August 9 2006.

Ex-NotW and Sun editor Brooks is also charged with two counts of conspiring with others to commit misconduct in public office, one between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2012 and the other between 9 February 2006 and 16 October 2008, linked to alleged inappropriate payments to public officials.

She faces another two allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice – one with her former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, from Chelmsford in Essex, between 6 Julyand 9 July 2011.

It is alleged that they conspired to remove seven boxes of material from the News International archive.

The second count alleges that Brooks, her husband Charles Brooks and former head of security at News International Mark Hanna conspired together and with others between 15 July and 19 July 2011 to pervert the course of justice.

It is claimed that they tried to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment from police officers who were investigating allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun newspapers.

Andy Coulson arriving at court today

 

Former Number 10 spin doctor and ex-NotW editor Coulson is also facing two allegations that he conspired with the tabloid's former royal editor Clive Goodman, 56, from Addlestone in Surrey, and persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office – one between 31 August 2002 and 31 January  2003; and the other between 31 January and 3 June 2005.

All eight defendants are on bail.

According to the Order-Order blog and Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship (via Twitter) news vendors in central London have been told of potential contempt of court issues with the current issue of Private Eye. Order-Order reports that two plain clothes police officers asked a news vendor in Farringdon to take the magazines down from display "on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service".

A CPS spokesman said: "This is a matter for the courts."

According to the CPS, it did not ask news vendors to remove copies from sale – and this has been confirmed by the police.

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