By Martin Hickman
The Crown’s case that Rebekah Brooks plotted to hack phones is “entirely circumstantial” and based on theory rather than evidence, her lawyer told the Old Bailey today.
In his closing speech, Jonathan Laidlaw QC suggested his client had been put at a disadvantage by inaccurate, biased and in some cases “downright cruel” media coverage and comment.
He maintained the evidence showed only a few proven cases of phone hacking during Mrs Brooks’s editorship of the News of the World between May 2000 and January 2003.
Of 550 taskings of the paper’s specialist hacker Glenn Mulcaire in that period, 330 had no note of a mobile phone number and only 12 showed any “significant” evidence of hacking or preparation to hack, such as a voicemail PIN number.
In addition, Mr Laidlaw told the jury, there was no evidence that Mrs Brooks had ever met Mulcaire, nor that she had known about his £92,000-a-year contract with the paper signed in September 2001.
Mr Laidlaw rubbished the case presented to the court by the chief prosecutor Andrew Edis QC, saying its essence was that Mrs Brooks “must have known.”
Mr Laidlaw said: “We are thankful that the Mulcaire notes still exist for the period of Mrs Brooks’ editorship”. That was because they showed “very little” hacking, he said.
Mr Laidlaw told the court: “Whatever Mr Edis may wish, or what he says, there’s no getting around this fact: Mulcaire’s notes actually prove, they demonstrate, and the evidence is that phone hacking rarely occurred during Mrs Brooks’ editorship.
“It was very far from being something she must have known about – carried out on occasion by a man far removed from the offices of the News of the World and with whom she had no contact.”
Beginning his speech, Mr Laidlaw asked the jury to imagine they were watching the trial of a “loved one” from the public gallery, in which case they would no doubt be feeling “anxiety” that the case had been heard against a “a backdrop of considerable attention from the media.”
Much of the coverage had been opinion or comment and displayed inaccuracy, bias and downright cruelty, he said. He did no cite any examples.
Mr Laidlaw said: “Can anyone be independent enough, strong enough, to avoid being influenced by it? You fear for your loved one would be… whatever the evidence, she [Mrs Brooks] is starting at a disadvantage, some yards behind the starting line and she cannot win.”
Despite the “vitriol” aimed at his client, there was no “smoking gun” to implicate her, he said.
“We have seen the prosecution construct a case not on direct evidence, but around inference,” the QC told the court.
“They have not been careful in the case… The prosecution called at least one witness who lied to the jury and who was always going to lie, and we have seen a policeman mislead – to protect the ultimate prosecution theory in this case: ‘Rebekah Brooks must be guilty, no matter what.”
Mr Laidlaw said that a Metropolitan Police detective, DC Pritchard, had erroneously stated that Mrs Brooks’ MacBook Air computer left at News International did not reveal her work for the company, when it had. He told the jury: “DC Pritchard’s evidence could not have been more misleading.”
Mr Laidlaw also attacked prosecution witness Eimear Cook, who said in her evidence that Mrs Brooks had talked at a social engagement about how easily phones could be hacked. Mr Laidlaw complained that the prosecution had made an extraordinary decision “not only to call but to stand by the evidence of a lying witness: Eimear Cook.”
He suggested that the Crown was wrong to state that Mulcaire only phone hacked, citing 10 examples between 2001 and 2003 which suggested that at the start of his News of the World contract he was blagging.
In a note on Radio One DJ Sara Cox, for instance, the lawyer said Mulcaire had noted down details about her Audi TT car such as its registration number. In a note on the Earl of Strathmore, Mulcaire had written: “Where is he this weekend?” and two possibilities of where he might have been.
As Mrs Brooks looked on from behind the glass-walled dock, Mr Laidlaw said: “She certainly never told Mulcaire to hack a phone – and when she was in charge he hardly ever did it.”
He is expected to finish his closing speech tomorrow afternoon.
The defendants deny all the charges.