By Martin Hickman.
Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and Stuart Kuttner knew all about phone hacking from the time the News of the World targeted Milly Dowler and did nothing to stop it carrying on for years, the Old Bailey was told today.
At the phone hacking trial, the prosecution pointed out Mrs Brooks was editor, Mr Coulson her deputy and Mr Kuttner the managing editor of the News of the World in April 2002 when its private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, hacked the missing 13-year-old’s phone.
A message subsequently intercepted on the schoolgirl’s phone prompted the NoW to scour Telford in the hope of finding her and to the publication of a story about the “mystery” voicemail in the tabloid.
Making his closing speech to the jury, Andrew Edis QC, for the Crown, said that the story was the first well-documented exclusive to have come from hacking since Mulcaire started his £96,000-a-year contract in September 2001.
He said: “The Milly Dowler case is extremely important to this case because each of them: Mrs Brooks, we say, though she denies it, and Mr Coulson and Mr Kuttner, and they don’t deny it, were all involved in this.
“And from that moment on… from April 2002 the three defendants charged with Count 1 on this indictment all knew about phone hacking and what is common ground is that none of them lifted a finger to stop it – and Mr Mulcaire got his £1,700 a week, as before.”
Mrs Brooks was on holiday in Dubai when Milly was hacked but was in regular phone contact with the editor’s office at the NoW, where Mr Coulson was acting editor.
Mr Edis reminded the jury that a witness holidaying in Dubai had recalled hearing Mrs Brooks saying she needed to speak to someone about the “missing Surrey schoolgirl.”
He added that Mr Coulson had been in charge when five NoW staff were to Telford to check out the tip that Milly was working in a factory and that he had spoken to the journalist anchoring the story, chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, twice on the Friday night before publication.
Mr Coulson also must have read the story and been responsible for moving it further back in the paper after the police had scotched the Telford theory.
Mr Edis added that Mr Kuttner had “started to bluster and prevaricate” when confronted in a police interview about an email he sent at the time to Surrey Police chasing up the interview.
Mr Edis said: “Essentially this is Mr Kuttner’s case: I can’t remember… but I’m a person of exceptional character and I wouldn’t do that kind of thing.”
Turning to the hacking of the David Blunkett in 2004, Mr Edis ridiculed Mr Coulson’s testimony that he was “shocked” to hear that Thurlbeck had hacked the Home Secretary but decided to publish the story anyway because it was in the public interest.
In earlier evidence the court heard that in a tape recording of a meeting with Mr Coulson the NoW editor said he was “extremely confident” about the sourcing of the story, but would not reveal where it had come from. Hundreds of voicemail messages and a draft story by Thurlbeck about Mr Blunkett and his lover, Kimberly Quinn, (nicknamed Noddy and Big Ears) were also found by police at News International.
Mr Edis said: “Mr Coulson’s account of all this is preposterous, but has been driven to it because Mr Blunkett tape recorded the meeting on Friday 13 August 2005; and he’s driven to it because [a News International lawyer] managed to keep the Noddy and Big Ears document in his safe until it was searched.
He told the jury: “This phone hacking was done further to an existing conspiracy which Mr Coulson already knew about… We invite you to conclude that Mr Coulson’s story is ridiculous – and reject it.”
He added the idea that Mr Coulson did not tell his lover Mrs Brooks Mrs Quinn’s identity (revealed in the Sun the day after the NoW exclusive) – when he admitted telling other NI executives – was “nonsense.”
In earlier years the dark arts at the paper were not illuminated by the documentation but in later years there was much greater evidence of hacking, Mr Edis said.
He told the court: “By 2005 and 2006, when the lights are well and truly on, the amount of hacking that can be proved was absolutely phenomenal.”
A record of a Metropolitan Police briefing which named Labour politicians Tessa Jowell and John Prescott as hacking victims in 2006 which Mrs Brooks received showed she “knew it was widespread,” Mr Edis said.
He went on: “She knew a lot more than came out in court, particularly that it wasn’t one rogue reporter.”
The hacking cover-up “very nearly succeeded,” Mr Edis said, adding after a pause: “But it didn’t”.
He concluded his closing speech at 4.15pm.
Closing speeches for the defendants begin tomorrow.