News of the World phone-hacking trial plays like a juicy tabloid story

Prosecutors says bikini-clad prince, celebrities, and politicians were in the sights of UK tabloids

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 7:24am

A prosecutor gave jurors juicy details of tabloid misbehaviour at Britain's phone-hacking trial, describing how journalists targeted celebrities, government ministers and even princes William and Harry.

The never-ending demand for royal stories at Rupert Murdoch's British tabloids led employees to hack voicemail messages left by the princes, target senior aides and pay thousands of pounds for a photo of Prince William in a bikini, prosecutor Andrew Edis told London's Central Criminal Court on Friday .

Former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both 45; Brooks' husband Charles and five former staff of Murdoch's British newspapers are on trial in the first major criminal case spawned by the revelation in 2011 that employees of the tabloid eavesdropped on the voicemails of celebrities, politicians, top athletes and even crime victims.

The defendants deny a variety of allegations related to phone hacking, bribing officials and obstructing a police inquiry. Coulson and Brooks have said they were not aware that hacking was going on when they were in charge of the News of the World - she from 2000 to 2003 and he between 2003 and 2007.

But prosecutors say senior staff must have known. Edis said one e-mail from Coulson to a subordinate, referring to hacking target Calum Best - a minor celebrity and son of the late soccer star George Best - contained the instruction: "Do his phone."

Other targets, he said, included actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller; Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills; politicians Tessa Jowell, John Prescott and David Blunkett; and aides to princes William and Harry.

One message left by Harry for his private secretary asking for help on an essay while he was a cadet at Sandhurst military academy in 2005 was hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, a private eye working for the News of the World.

In the transcript, Harry asked for information on a 1980 siege at the Iranian embassy in London, "because I need to write an essay quite quickly on that but I need some extra info. Please, please e-mail it to me or text me". The resulting News of the World story was headlined "Harry's aide helps out on Sandhurst exams."

Coulson is also charged with agreeing to pay palace police officers for two private royal phone directories. Some of the numbers were then hacked, Edis said.

Prosecutors say Brooks was also hands-on, both at the News of the World and at The Sun, which she edited between 2003 and 2009. Among charges against her is that she paid an armed forces member and a senior defence official tens of thousands of pounds for stories - including a £4,000 (HK$49,580) payment for a picture of William "dressed as a Bond girl" in a bikini.