'Phone-hacking' editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson 'were lovers for six years'
Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks were lovers for at least six years, prosecutor alleges
In a blockbuster court declaration in Britain's phone-hacking trial, prosecutor Andrew Edis says two of Rupert Murdoch's senior tabloid executives - Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks — had an affair for at least six years.
The affair covered the period when she was editor of Murdoch's News of the World tabloid and Coulson was her deputy. Coulson later edited the same paper and then became a top media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Edis made the disclosure yesterday during Coulson's and Brooks' trial on phone-hacking allegations. "What Mr Coulson knew, Mrs Brooks knew too. What Mrs Brooks knew, Mr Coulson knew too," Edis told the court. "That's the point."
The relationship had been discovered after police found a word document containing a 2004 letter on a computer stored at Brooks's home. "You are my best friend ... I tell you everything, I confide in you ... I love you, I care about you," the letter from Brooks to Coulson said, said Edis, who read it out to the jury of nine women and three men.
The trial stems from the revelation that employees of the newspaper eavesdropped on the phone voicemails of celebrities, politicians and even a murdered teenager, Milly Dowler. Brooks and Coulson are on trial, along with six others, on a range of charges related to hacking and bribery. All deny the charges.
Edis said the "dog-eat-dog" environment led to routine lawbreaking that was sanctioned by those in charge of the tabloid. The scandal led Murdoch to shut the 168-year-old tabloid in 2011 and spurred wide-ranging criminal investigations into phone hacking, bribery and other illegal behaviour by newspapers.
In the opening arguments, Edis gave the jury detailed insight into the inner workings of tabloid phone hacking.
Jurors were shown e-mail exchanges involving private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson - one of the defendants - detailing the hacking in 2006 of former government minister Tessa Jowell, royal family member Frederick Windsor and one-time deputy prime minister John Prescott, who was the subject of a major kiss-and-tell story from a mistress.
Mulcaire also hacked the phones of two journalists at the rival Mail on Sunday tabloid who were working on their own story about the Prescott affair, the prosecutor said. "In the frenzy to get the huge story ... that's what you do," Edis said.
Edis also played a recording of Mulcaire "blagging" - seeking information about a voicemail password from a service provider using a false name. The prosecutor said the e-mails, the recordings and pages from Mulcaire's notebooks together provided "very clear evidence" of widespread hacking. And, he said, senior editors must have known about it.
Edis said Mulcaire was paid almost £100,000 (HK$1.24 million) a year under a contract that started in 2001 and ended when he was arrested in 2006 for hacking the phones of royal aides. He and royal editor Clive Goodman were briefly jailed, and Murdoch's company maintained for years that hacking had been limited to that pair.
That claim was demolished when the Dowler case became public in 2011. Murdoch's company has since paid millions in compensation to scores of people whose phones were hacked.
Mulcaire has pleaded guilty, along with three former News of the World news editors.
Edis said there were few records of what Mulcaire was paid to do by the newspaper, but that senior editors must have known of his illicit activity.
"The question is, did nobody ever ask, 'What are we paying this chap for?'" he asked. "Somebody must have decided that what he was doing was worth an awful lot of money. Who was that?"
He said Brooks, who edited the News of the World between 2000 and 2003 - the period when Mulcaire was put on retainer - "was actively involved in financial management" and sent editors stern e-mails reminding them to keep costs down. Under Coulson, who succeeded her as editor, Mulcaire's fee was increased to £2,019 a week.
Edis said there was no evidence that Mulcaire's fees were ever questioned.
Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse