By Martin Hickman
Rebekah Brooks demonstrated poor judgment by turning down the scoop on the MPs’ expenses scandal, she admitted at the phone hacking trial today.
In evidence about payments to public officials for information, Mrs Brooks said that in 2009 she had contemplated shelling out tens of thousands of pounds to an official to acquire the unredacted data revealing MPs’ expenses.
But she said that after dithering for days she spurned the opportunity – and the exclusive went to the Daily Telegraph, whose coverage led to several politicians being jailed.
Mrs Brooks – who is accused of authorising payments to a MoD official for military stories including some about sex pest officers – told the phone hacking trial that the MPs’ expenses story was difficult.
“In terms of errors of judgement, it’s pretty high on the list, At the time I remember it being a very high price tag, and it was incredibly expensive,” she said.
She lamented: “I should have gone ahead, but I didn’t.”
Mrs Brooks said that she had authorised a payment to a public official while deputy editor of the Sun in 1998, when she bought an exclusive about an alleged Saddam Hussein plot to poison Britons.
She told the court that after discussing the story with GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, the Sun excised details that would have identified UK operatives abroad from its exclusive “Saddam’s anthrax in our duty-frees,” published on 24 March 1998.
Regrettably, she added, the source of the leak, a chief petty officer, was subsequently traced and prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.
Mrs Brooks’s legal team showed the jury at the Old Bailey emails revealing how public officials had often been the source of information used in the Sun.
In one dated 3 February 2006, a Sun reporter told Mrs Brooks that Dick Fedorcio, then head of the Scotland Yard press office, had identified a Cabinet minister as being behind a leak about the police’s cover-up over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The email read: “Dick says the leak on Stockwell coverup came from [Home Secretary] Charles Clarke.”
Requesting a payment for a different story, the reporter went on: “… with regards to why I want the £500 requested, that’s for information on an exclusive we had last week about Kate Moss drug dealer being quizzed. Made ten pars last Saturday under the Doherty stuff.”
Asked by her QC Jonathan Laidlaw whether she could remember the email, Mrs Brooks replied: “Not particularly.”
In another dated 11 April 2011, a Sun reporter – who cannot be named for legal reasons – asked Mrs Brooks: “Rebekah – sorry to disturb you, but I hope you can authorise a cash payment please.
“I would like to keep it anonymous because the contact is a serving police officer. He has supplied us with numerous tips in the past and this time provided us with the basis of a good exclusive page lead about the Royal Mayor of Tetbury wife-swapping.”
Asked whether she had authorised a payment, Mrs Brooks replied: “I don’t recall.”
In July 2005, a Sun executive indicated that a police officer had alerted the paper to the pop star George Michael being stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence of drink or drugs.
Forwarded the email by a colleague, Mrs Brooks emailed back: “Leave it with me.”
Asked to explain her response, Mrs Brooks that she knew Mr Michael’s representatives well and had probably tried to confirm the story with them.
Mrs Brooks halted her evidence at lunchtime with the agreement of the judge, after Mr Laidlaw said she was tired after six days of giving evidence.
The editor of the Sun between 2003 and 2009 denies conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. The case resumes on Monday.