Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson put up a “Chinese wall” around their professional lives after they clashed over a News of the World exclusive about David Beckham, the Old Bailey central criminal court in London has heard.
Brooks told the phone-hacking trial on Wednesday that her personal relationship with Coulson grew “difficult” and “strange” when she edited the Sun and he was in charge of the rival News of the World.
Last week Brooks told the jury she and Coulson had several periods of “physical intimacy” between 1998 and 2006, but denied there had been an affair lasting six years. Brooks also spoke about the draft of a letter she wrote to Coulson declaring her love for him in February 2004, which was never sent.
Giving evidence from the witness box, Brooks described how friction between the pair escalated in April 2004 when the News of the World broke the story about Beckham’s alleged affair with Rebecca Loos, which left the Sun trailing the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail in following up the scoop.
Brooks said: “The two newspapers were to all intents and purposes rivals and pretty strong rivals.
“I think Andy and I had been very good at keeping that Chinese wall and perhaps on promotions and other things co-operating a bit more than other editors. But certainly keeping a Chinese wall because it was a hostage to fortune discussing what you were working on because he was on a weekly and I on a daily, therefore more opportunity to publish.”
Asked whether she would have had any hesitation in stealing the Beckham story if Coulson had told her about it privately, Brooks took a long pause and said: “Well, I might have known about it already.”
Asked a second time, Brooks replied with a smile: “Probably not, no.”
She added: “After the letter and things, things were difficult. It was strange for a while.”
Brooks said the Beckham story was a good example of their professional tension.
She told the court: “From memory the News of the World did a spoof edition on the Beckham affair and for whatever reason obviously no one at the News of the World had discussed it with me, probably reasonable, but because they had a spoof edition somehow it meant that the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail had heard that the News of the World had this story and the Sun, the alleged sister paper, didn’t.
“What it meant was that the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail had a march on us and were able to get to the Beckhams quickly. Obviously I was not best pleased about that situation.”
Asked by her counsel, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, whether Coulson mentioned the story to her privately during the week, Brooks said: “Just to even mention that to me could be fatal for his paper, because he wouldn’t know that the day he mentioned it I might have had dinner with Victoria [Beckham] where she mentioned it.
“He might say on the Thursday I’ve got a good Beckham story this weekend and I might say, ‘Ummm, sorry we’re running it tomorrow’. It was too complicated.”
Laidlaw also questioned Brooks about the News of the World’s exclusive story about the Labour politician David Blunkett’s affair with Spectator magazine publisher Kimberly Quinn, and a conversation she had with Coulson about the story on the Saturday night before publication in August 2004.
But Brooks said this new co-operation between her and Coulson did not mean he passed on Quinn’s name to the Sun, which revealed her identity from separate sources the following day.
Asked if she knew the story had come from hacking, she said: “Absolutely not.”
Brooks added: “From memory what happened was I was told by Andy the News of the World had got this, then my political team and I and the news team would be, once we had seen that News of the World hadn’t named her, we would have been full steam ahead trying to find her name. That would have been our job.
“I don’t remember Andy giving an explanation as to why or if there had been an issue naming her.”
The story was all over the news, she recalled, and the fact the “home secretary [interior minister] was having an affair” was “leading the BBC news at one point”.
She told the court: “But I remember it becoming quite obvious, on that Sunday that the relationship between David Blunkett and Kimberly Quinn wasn’t actually as secret as had been previously thought.
“A search of cuttings showed that there had been a couple of items, more gossipy, about them attending a public event together and I think in the end there were lots of different rumours, her name came up and I think it was as simple as me getting one of his other special advisers to confirm it to me.”
Asked to name the special adviser, Brooks responded: “Huw Evans.”
By the time the Blunkett story came up, she admitted that she was once again “close” to Coulson, with whom she had an on-off affair.
“Things had been frosty for a while, now we were back to being close again,” she said.
The day before Coulson travelled to Sheffield to confront Blunkett about the affair, he texted Brooks frequently.
Asked to look at the call data, Brooks said the texts were “every minute during the night”. She added: “I can’t remember the content of them, my guess is they would have been pretty personal. It looks like constant texting till late in the evening.”
Brooks and Coulson deny all charges against them.
The trial continues.