Rebekah Brooks 'shocked' over Milly Dowler phone-hacking allegations, court told

Rebekah Brooks had nothing to do with the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone and was left feeling "shock and horror" when she found out what had happened, she has told a court.

The former News of the World editor told the Old Bailey that she knew nothing about the tasking of phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire to access Milly's voicemails and only became aware of it on 4 July, 2011.

Asked about her reaction when she found out, the 45-year-old said: "Shock, horror, everything.

"Just to put my reaction into any form of context, I was told that the NotW had asked someone to access Milly Dowler's phone while she was missing, that they had also deleted her voicemails and for a period of time because of that her parents had been given false hope and thought she was alive.

"I just think anyone would think that that was pretty abhorrent, so my reaction was that. That was what I was told."

As Brooks returned to the witness box for the third day, jurors were told that 13-year-old Milly was reported missing on 21 March, 2002.

Her disappearance was covered by the now-defunct tabloid in the following weeks, and the court heard that it had emerged that Milly's voicemails had been accessed between 10 and 12 April 10 that year.

"Nobody did delete voicemails and certain parts of the police knew voicemails had been accessed," she added.

Brooks denies conspiring to hack phones, conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and conspiring to cover up evidence to pervert the course of justice.

She told the court the story of Milly's disappearance would have been "very important" but denied it was particularly significant because of the News of the World campaign for Sarah's Law.

"A missing schoolgirl would be of interest to me as an editor and news editor but not in the context of Sarah's Law," she said.

Brooks told the court that no journalist or desk head had come to her and asked her to approve the use of phone hacking to get stories while she was at the helm of the tabloid between 2000 and 2003.

Asked by her lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC if she had ever been asked to sanction accessing any voicemails as part of an investigation or any stories, she said "no".

She told the court: "At the time, if you took my editorship of the News of the World at the time, I don't think anybody, me included, knew it was illegal."

She added: "No one, no desk head, no journalist, ever came to me and said ,'we're working on so-and-so a story but we need to access their voicemail' or asked my sanction to do it.

"It just didn't happen in the course of my editorship.

"Even though I didn't know it was illegal I still would have felt that it was absolutely in the category of a serious breach of privacy."

She said under the terms of the Press Complaints Commission code of practice, hacking "certainly would have fallen into a serious breach of someone's privacy, particularly if you didn't have an overwhelming public interest reason for doing so".

The former News International chief executive insisted she had never sanctioned phone hacking during her editorship of the News of the World but hypothetically, she might have done in the right circumstance and if there was a strong public interest.

She said: "If somebody had come to me with the right set of circumstances and asked me … something to do with paedophiles, Roy Whiting… something along those lines and had asked me with a good set of reasons I may have done."

The court heard that Brooks had shied away from offering a reward for information on Milly's disappearance because the focus at the time had been wrongly on her father.

She also backed out of asking the Paynes to comment on the story, even though they lived just a few streets away from the Dowlers in Surrey.

Brooks said the Milly case initially chimed with Sarah Payne's disappearance but she acted on guidance from police at the time.

Brooks also took on criticism that the Sarah's Law campaign had focused on stranger abductions rather than the 70 per cent of cases  involving people the victim knew.

She said: "The background of Sarah's story and these criticisms I have just talked about had an impact."

In fact, Milly had been abducted and murdered by a predatory sex offender and had nothing to do with her father, the court heard.

Milly's phone was most likely hacked between 10-12 April, and Brooks was on holiday in Dubai from 7 April for a week, the court heard.

Laidlaw asked the former editor: "Was that ever brought to your attention at any point, firstly during your holiday in Dubai?"

"Absolutely not," Brooks said.

"Or thereafter?" Laidlaw asked, to which she replied "No".

And when he said: "Before 4 July 2011?", she again said "No".

Brooks said she had "no recollection" of discussions about the Milly story while she was on holiday in Dubai.

"I don't remember any discussion about the disappearance when I was away," she said.

Laidlaw said he was "really sorry to return to personal matters" as he asked his client what her relationship with Ross Kemp and Andy Coulson was like at the time she was away.

"I think Ross and I were in a good place at the time," she replied.

Asked if she was "physically intimate" with Coulson at the time, Brooks replied: "No".

Brooks told the court that no journalist or desk head had come to her and asked her to approve the use of phone hacking to get stories while she was at the helm of the tabloid between 2000 and 2003.

She said: "If you took my editorship of the News of the World at the time, I don't think anybody, me included, knew it was illegal.

"No one, no desk head, no journalist, ever came to me and said 'We're working on so-and-so a story but we need to access their voicemail' or asked my sanction to do it.

"It just didn't happen in the course of my editorship.

"Even though I didn't know it was illegal, I still would have felt that it was absolutely in the category of a serious breach of privacy."

She said under the terms of the Press Complaints Commission code of practice, hacking "certainly would have fallen into a serious breach of someone's privacy, particularly if you didn't have an overwhelming public interest reason for doing so".

Giving evidence this afternoon, Brooks said she "probably would not have gone on holiday" to Dubai if police had suggested the Milly Dowler case was a "Sarah's Law situation".

"Obviously if police had been giving us a steer this was the kind of situation, I'd say it was likely I might put the holiday off or make it later," she said.

"It wasn't unusual to do that."

Brooks said she had "moved holidays" on other occasions, particularly when she worked for The Sun, because of an important story including the murders of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham.

She told the court her then-partner Kemp "liked Dubai" and they travelled there three or four times.

Brooks said: "At the time we were going to get married abroad – in fact we did get married abroad but not in Dubai. We may have been looking I can't remember.

"We went there mainly because he liked it."

Brooks said she did not recall saying she had to speak to someone about a "missing Surrey girl" during a phonecall in Dubai.

"I don't particularly remember saying that," she said.

As Brooks was taken through call records showing contact between Brooks and the News of the World's editor's office while she was in Dubai, the former News International chief executive said the high levels of calls did not seem "at all unusual".

Asked by Laidlaw what she would have done if someone had told her on the Thursday or Friday that they thought they had a lead on the whereabouts of Milly Dowler, she said: "Tell the police.

"I would have assumed probably that they would have told the police before me," she said.

"If they had not, I would have told them to do so.

"If they had a lead that she was alive or they had found her, that would have been the correct thing to do."

She said if a reporter or anyone had come across a lead that Milly was alive and well, it would have been "the right thing to do" to make sure her parents could be told as soon as possible.

The court heard that a full transcript of a voicemail message mistakenly left on Milly's phone by a recruitment agency was included in the first and second edition of the News of the World on 14 April.

But the exact wording of the hacked message disappeared from the third "main selling edition" of the paper, the court heard.

Prosecutors have previously highlighted that the changes took place over a similar time period that Brooks was in touch with Coulson from Dubai via text message.

Laidlaw asked her today: "Did you have any part to play in the change in the article which are carried in the various editions?"

Brooks replied: "No."

The barrister then asked Brooks whether she was involved in the decision to move the article from page nine to page 30 in the later edition.

"No, I don't think so," she said.

All of the defendants deny all of the charges.

The trial continues.

 

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