News Corp. Phone Hacking Trial Month 6: Murdoch Pays Out Millions More, Kate Middleton Hacked 155 Times, Trial Nears End
Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS
Both prosecution and defense lawyers have begun to present their closing arguments as the trial against several News Corp. employees for compromising the privacy of crime victims, royalty, celebrities, and politicians.
Several editors and executives at News International have been on trial in England for the last six months regarding their alleged roles in conspiring to hack telephones and voicemails in order to dig up gossip for stories in the News of the World newspaper. The accused include former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, a favorite of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch; former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who later served as communications head for Prime Minister David Cameron; and Stuart Kuttner, the paper's former managing editor.
This past month, News Corp. acknowledged that the company has had to pay out millions more this year in legal fees relating to the scandal. Court testimony this month revealed that hacking of the royal family and their associates - including now-Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton -- was more extensive than previously known, while lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense began to present their closing arguments to the jury.
In April, Kuttner denied paying off the private investigator who had done the actual phone hacking. Coulson testified about his actions relating to phone hacking, largely denying allegations that he engaged in a cover-up of the phone hacking and that he never meant that telling someone to "do his phone" meant hacking.
Here are the developments that occurred in May, the sixth month of the phone hacking trial:
- News Corp. declared in its latest quarterly earnings report that it has incurred legal and professional fees relating to phone hacking of $137 million for the nine months ending March 31, 2014. Additionally, the company said it incurred costs of $144 million for the nine months ending March 31, 2013.
- The jury heard testimony that former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman hacked Kate Middleton's phone 155 times when she was dating her eventual husband, Prince William. He also hacked Prince William's phone 35 times and Prince Harry's phone 9 times. Goodman testified that he hacked Middleton's phone because at the time "she was a figure of increasing importance around the Royal Family." Goodman has previously served time for hacking the phones of royal aides.
- Prosecutor Andrew Edis made his closing argument to the jury. He told them that "none" of the News of the World executives on trial "lifted a finger" to stop the practice of phone hacking after detectives hired by the paper broke into the phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler. He also questioned the veracity of testimony from Coulson and Kuttner, who had claimed they didn't know about the extent of phone hacking at the paper.
- Edis accused Cheryl Carter, Rebekah Brooks' former personal assistant, of lying to police when they asked her about the removal of Brooks' notebooks from News International's archives. Carter said at the time that Brooks had been out of the office when the notebooks were moved, but phone records showed Brooks was in that day. Carter claimed it was a mistake, but Edis characterized the move as "having been tasked to do her boss' dirty work."
- Edis also called into question earlier testimony from Brooks' husband Charlie, who claimed he had hidden computers and DVDs because they contained pornography, and not because they contained material related to phone hacking or a related cover-up. He also pointed out that several pieces of electronic equipment issued to Brooks by News International were still missing and show "no record of return."
- Rebekah Brooks' lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw, used his closing argument to describe the prosecution's case against his client as "absurd" and "beyond ridiculous." Laidlaw told the jury that they were "perfectly entitled to think Mrs Brooks made mistakes in response to the phone-hacking scandal" but that those mistakes do not constitute a crime, and that she was motivated by a desire to "prevent further damage to the company" and not "her personally."
- Laidlaw also claimed the case against his client was "entirely circumstantial" and had "no smoking gun" to link Brooks to the hacking. He urged jurors to ignore what he characterized as "downright cruelty and vitriol" surrounding the case as they decided on their verdict, adding that Brooks was the "victim of a witch hunt."
- In his closing speech Andy Coulson's lawyer, Timothy Langdale, criticized the police investigation into phone hacking, saying it was not "rigorous, open-minded or fair." He also claimed that it was "almost as if the juggernaut... of the police investigation and prosecution must keep moving, whatever legitimate obstacles are thrown in its path." He also attacked prosecution witnesses for having an "agenda" and being "unreliable."
- In his summation, Jonathan Caplan, who is representing former News of the Worldmanaging editor Stuart Kuttner, claimed that the criminal case was a result of phone hacking becoming "a political hot potato" in England. He noted that the case "cries out for some sense of proportion," and pointed out that the Old Bailey courthouse where the proceedings have taken place is usually the site of trials for violent criminals and terrorists.
- Trevor Brooke, the lawyer for Carter said in his closing argument that it was "utterly preposterous" that Brooks' personal assistant would be involved in a criminal conspiracy.
- David Spens, Clive Goodman's lawyer, said in his closing argument that his client had been "groomed" as the "fall guy" for the widespread hacking at News of the World. He accused Coulson and other executives of executing a "somewhat shocking and cynical strategy of carrot and stick" to ensure Goodman's further silence after he was first arrested for phone hacking.