Tony Blair briefed The Sun on New Labour project two years before 1997 General Election, court told

Rebekah Brooks met with Tony Blair and the “original New Labour crew” before the The Sun dramatically switched sides before the 1997 General Election, the Old Bailey heard today.

Brooks was editing The Sun at the time of the party conferences in advance of the 1997 General Election when the newspaper changed its allegiance.

The 45-year-old former newspaper executive said Tony Blair had flown to a corporate conference two years earlier to brief them on the New Labour project.

She said: “That was the start of the relationship between New Labour and the Sun and News of the World," she said.

She went on to describe meeting the New Labour "crew" when she went to a Tony Blair rally on education in 1996.

Her then boyfriend EastEnder Ross Kemp was a card-carrying Labour supporter and had been asked to open the rally for Blair, whose mantra at the time was Education, Education, Education.

"Ross had been asked to go to a rally in Nottingham or Sheffield to open the stage for Tony Blair to talk about education and I went with him and that's when I met the New Labour team – Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, Alastair Campbell and his wife Fiona Millar and Peter Mandelson – the original New Labour crew," she said.

Before the 1997 election, the Sun and News of the World announced its support for New Labour but it was early adopter, the Sun, which was most significant, Brooks said: "The Sun was a big story."

Yesterday, the trial heard how Brooks' relationship with Blair continued at the height of the hacking crisis in July 2011.

Reporting an hour-long phone call with Blair (pictured above) to James Murdoch, Brooks said he told her to "tough up" and offered to be an unofficial adviser.

Earlier, Brooks gave evidence about the culture she faced while establishing herself within News International.

Asked about any personal attacks on her, Brooks said she once found a file compiled on her "perceived mistakes or stupid stories", called "Twat 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6".

"It was a difficult world," she told the jury.

The court heard that the first occasion Brooks edited the paper was on 11 February 1996 – after the bombing by the Provisional IRA at Canary Wharf – when editor Phil Hall was on holiday.

"It was the first time I had been left in charge, so a big, serious news story like that, I was obviously on edge and wanted to do it well."

"Despite my inexperience we managed to pull it together."

She said since the bomb had gone off on the Friday, the News of the World was trying to "get behind the news and reflect the seriousness of what had happened in a News of the World way".

She said the aim was to "bring the terror to their (the readers') real lives".

Brooks said: "I think the bosses were quite nervous because they suddenly appeared in the office on a Saturday which had never been seen before.

"I think they realised that I didn't have much experience and this was a big story to get right so my boss Les Hinton came in for a few hours that morning."

As deputy editor of the News of the World, Brooks would sometimes edit the paper if the regular editor was away.

This meant taking a call from Rupert Murdoch on the Saturday night, before the newspaper was published the following day.

"He would ask 'What's going on?', that was always his opening gambit, and it was up to you to tell him what was going on," Brooks said.

Recalling the first time that Mr Murdoch came to her office, she said: "I remember him coming into my office for the first time when I was deputy editor and he sat down and said 'It's a big challenge at a young age', kind advice. 'You've got a long career ahead, take your time, learn on the job'.

"He was particularly keen for me to take a very strict path in any kind of publicity.

"He wasn't very fond of editors … going on Radio Four and spouting forth about their opinions, he didn't like that."

She added: "I made the fatal error of telling him Woman's Own wanted to interview me, and his reaction was very grim."

Brooks said when she became deputy editor of The Sun in January 1998, she was told by then-chairman Les Hinton that they wanted to make the paper "less blokey".

She added: "I remember him saying that he felt that there had to be a bit more substance to the paper."

Asked about the relationship between The Sun and the News of the World, Brooks described a fiercely competitive environment.

She said that despite being in the same building, each publication had swipe cards.

She said that once when management planned a route to the canteen for News of the World staff that went past the Sun's offices, the latter's response was to frost all the windows.

"That's what it was like, it probably sounds rather paranoid," she said.

She said print rooms were "locked down" so rival journalists could not access stories, adding: "It was four separate kingdoms really."

Brooks told the court: "There was huge competition between the papers, probably particularly the Sun and the News of the  World.

"I remember when the News of the World got Divine Brown, the editor of the Sun practically banging on the door trying to find out whether or not we had finally got her."

She said that in a way the two sister papers were more competitive with each other than with rivals such as the Mirror or the Mail, and collaboration between them happened only "occasionally".

The trial continues.

All of the defendants deny all of the charges.

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