Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks said she never sanctioned phone hacking, and was horrified when she learned the British tabloid newspaper had targeted the mobile phone of a missing teenager.
Brooks answered “No” when asked by her lawyer whether she had ever approved eavesdropping on voicemails.
She said that, as editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper between 2000 and 2003, she didn’t know that phone hacking was against the law, but would have considered it a “serious breach of privacy”.
“I don’t think anybody, me included, knew it was illegal,” Brooks said during her third day on the witness stand at her trail into phone-hacking in Britain.
“No one, no desk head, no journalist, ever came to me and said, ‘We’re working on so-and-so a story, but we need to access their voicemail’, or asked my sanction to do it.”
Brooks told London’s Central Criminal Court that it was not until July 2011 that she discovered the newspaper had hacked the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was abducted and murdered in 2002. She said her reaction was “shock, horror, everything”.
The former editor told the court she was unaware the newspaper had tasked private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to hack the murdered schoolgirl’s phone in April 2002, weeks after she had gone missing.
Her lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw, asked her if she had anything to do with the tasking of Mulcaire. “No, I didn’t,” she told the jury.
Brooks said she had been on holiday in Dubai during the period in 2002 when Dowler’s phone was hacked.
Her deputy and sometime lover, Andy Coulson, was in charge of the newspaper at the time. Coulson, who went on to become British Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief, is also on trial.
Asked by Laidlaw whether the hacking of Dowler’s phone was brought to her attention while she was on holiday, Brooks said, “Absolutely not”.
Earlier in the trial, the prosecution had said it could be inferred that Brooks would have discussed the Dowler story because of her relationship with Coulson, which was exposed after the police found a draft love letter on her computer when her home was searched after her arrest.
The jury had previously also heard testimony from a member of the public, William Hennessy, who said he met Brooks in Dubai and claimed to have heard her saying she had to take a call about the “missing Surrey schoolgirl”.
Brooks said she did not recall that. “I don’t remember meeting him or saying that, but it is possible I did,” she said.
Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World in July 2011 amid public outrage in Britain at the hacking of Dowler’s phone.
Murdoch’s media empire has since paid millions to settle invasion-of-privacy lawsuits from dozens of celebrities, politicians and others.
Brooks, Coulson and five others are on trial accused of charges including phone hacking, bribery and obstructing a police investigation. All seven have pleaded not guilty.
The trial continues