Rebekah Brooks. Photo by Reuters
Rebekah Brooks, the former boss of Rupert Murdoch's British
newspaper arm, has been acquitted on charges of orchestrating
a campaign to hack into phones and bribe officials in a case
that has shaken the British political establishment.
A jury at London's Old Bailey court cleared Brooks
unanimously but found Andy Coulson - her former lover and
Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief - guilty of
conspiring to intercept messages to break news about royalty,
celebrities and victims of crime.
The conviction in one of the most expensive criminal trials
in British legal history forced Cameron to apologise for
hiring Coulson in 2007 when the Conservative leader gave him
a "second chance" after he had already quit one of Murdoch's
newspapers as the hacking scandal brewed.
"I'm extremely sorry that I employed him, it was the wrong
decision," said the British leader. "I asked him questions
about if he knew about phone hacking and he said that he
didn't and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the
The jury is still deliberating over whether Coulson also
sanctioned illegal payments to public officials to generate
lurid exclusives for the News of the World, which was
Britain's biggest selling title until the scandal forced its
On hearing the verdict read out by the jury's foreman in
Court Number 12, Brooks looked stunned and drew a sharp
intake of breath. Visibly shaking, she was led away by a
nurse. Coulson, who faces jail, was impassive.
Wearing a white jumper that contrasted to her striking red
hair, Brooks later walked from the court through a scrum of
photographers, clutching the hand of her husband, Charlie,
who was also cleared of attempting to hinder the police
Several court staff waved goodbye to Brooks, called Murdoch's
"fifth daughter" by British media because she was so close to
the media tycoon.
Brooks's lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw had argued the prosecution
failed to produce a "smoking gun" during her 14 days of
intense questioning on the stand. He likened the authorities'
decision to take her to court to a mediaeval witch hunt.
Both Coulson and Brooks were former editors of the News of
the World, the 168-year-old tabloid Murdoch closed in July
2011 amid a public outcry over revelations that journalists
had hacked into the voicemails of hundreds of people
including murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
The scandal shocked Britain's political elite, with prime
ministers from both main parties shown to have been close to
Murdoch and his senior staff including Brooks. Cameron
ordered a public inquiry into press ethics in the immediate
The 46-year-old Brooks, who was a close friend of the last
three British prime ministers, spent 14 days in the witness
box, facing questions about her private life, her
professional career and her ties to top politicians.
"If what you saw was a mask, Mrs Brooks must be a witch with
truly supernatural powers," her lawyer told the jury. "No
human mask could withstand that amount of scrutiny without
Brooks was cleared of being part of a conspiracy to hack into
phones to find exclusive stories, of authorising illegal
payments to public officials and of trying to hinder the
Cameron was accused of showing poor judgment in his close
ties to Brooks and for recruiting Coulson when he was in
opposition. Coulson was brought in to help Cameron, who was
educated at one of Britain's top private schools, to connect
with voters and stayed with him when the Conservative leader
became prime minister in 2010.
After Cameron's apology, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband
went on the attack. "This isn't just a serious error of
judgement. This taints David Cameron's government because we
now know that he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch
ahead of doing the right thing when it came to Andy Coulson,"
The scandal began to emerge in November 2006 when the News of
the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman and its private
detective Glenn Mulcaire admitted hacking the phones of aides
to the royal family.
For years, News International insisted the crime was limited
to a single rogue reporter and aggressively rejected any
Police now believe there were probably more than 1,000
victims of hacking, including Queen Elizabeth's grandsons,
Princes William and Harry, and William's wife Kate, and
possibly as many as 5,500.
Politicians, celebrities, prominent sporting figures and even
rival journalists were all targeted in a desperate attempt to
find exclusive stories for Britain's top-selling newspaper.
But Laidlaw said only 12 confirmed hackings occurred during
Brooks's time as editor from 2000-3, and she had been on
holiday when Dowler's phone was tapped in 2002. Coulson, her
deputy, was in charge that week. He had denied any knowledge.
The prosecution argued that the two editors must have known
about the activity on the paper, after four senior editors
and a reporter pleaded guilty to phone hacking.
"DO HIS PHONE"
One email shown to the jury revealed how Coulson instructed a
news editor working on a story about a celebrity figure "to
do his phone".
However, the most dramatic revelation during the trial, which
began last October, was that Brooks and Coulson had had an
on/off affair running over nine years from when they began
working together on the News of the World in 1998.
Prosecutors had argued that this meant Brooks would have
known all about the hacking that Coulson was involved in,
while she said that they maintained a professional "Chinese
The prosecution also alleged Brooks and her husband were part
of an elaborate plot to hide evidence and computers from
However, Charlie Brooks said in court he had merely been
hiding a briefcase from police which contained his collection
of lesbian pornography and a novel he was working on.
Following the initial verdicts, Murdoch's British newspaper
operation said it had changed the way it did business.
"We said long ago, and repeat today, that wrongdoing
occurred, and we apologised for it. We have been paying
compensation to those affected and have cooperated with
investigations," a News UK spokesman said.
The maximum jail term for phone hacking is two years.
The eight women and three men on the jury, who have been
deliberating over eight days already, are still considering
whether Coulson is guilty of authorising illegal payments to
a public official.