Former News International boss Rebekah Brooks began giving evidence in her defence at the phone hacking trial today after she was formally cleared of a charge linked to a picture of Prince William dressed as a bikini-clad Bond girl at a Sandhurst party.
The 45-year-old ex-tabloid editor, who still faces charges of conspiring to hack phones, two of perverting the course of justice and one of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, sat in the witness box at the Old Bailey wearing a white cardigan over a royal blue dress with her red hair pinned back.
She was formally acquitted of a charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office by sanctioning a payment of £4,000 (€2,919) for the William picture after Mr Justice Saunders told the jury that he had found there was no case to answer on that count.
Brooks stood and smiled as the jury foreman recorded a not guilty verdict.
Speaking in a calm voice, Brooks briefly described her childhood and began outlining the start of her career in journalism, which she said she was inspired to pursue by her grandmother.
After confirming that she was born in Warrington, Cheshire, in 1968 and was an only child, she told the packed wood-lined courtroom: “My grandmother, who I said lived with us, she was a writer. She wrote a lot of poetry and she wrote a poetry column for a local newspaper. The idea probably stemmed from her.”
She said she had “swept the floors and made the tea” when she got work experience at the local newspaper, the Warrington Guardian, at the age of 14, and then got her first full-time job in journalism in 1988, when she was around 20.
As Brooks described her early days in journalism, her husband and co-defendant Charlie Brooks sat with his left hand resting against the side of his head, smiling.
His wife detailed her rise through the ranks to the top echelons of tabloid journalism, starting on “short-lived” publication The Post where she was “bit by bit allowed to write a paragraph”.
She then moved on to the News of the World’s Sunday magazine, before working for the newspaper’s features department and in 1995, at the age of 27, becoming deputy editor of the tabloid.
Brooks told the court that she was made aware very early on of the importance of contacts for journalists, both at college and as she worked at the News of the World’s magazine, when she heard colleagues talk about “their contacts and their sources”.
She described how she used her contact with PR guru Max Clifford to pass muster as deputy editor of the newspaper despite her relative inexperience and age.
Brooks said: “I kept hold of running the (features) side of things. Particularly the NotW had a very strong relationship with someone called Max Clifford who basically brokered stories and I dealt with him a lot and stories around that so by Christmas I passed my trial.”
Her lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC made an opening statement at the start of Brooks’s defence case today, saying jurors might have found the trial hard to follow so far.
He told the court that “on occasions absolutely critical information was overlooked or left out” by the prosecution.
Mr Laidlaw said: “If there is a sense of confusion about the evidence and what it is said to relate to, that would be entirely understandable.”
He told the jury that at the end of the trial, he would “have a lot more to say” about Brooks’s treatment by the prosecution and the police.
Mr Laidlaw told the jury it was not for Brooks to give evidence to “make out her innocence”, but that the prosecution must bear the burden of reaching a high standard of proof.
He said: “That may not be something that has emerged clearly or at all at this point.”
Mr Laidlaw told the jury: “Although these allegations arose in the course of Mrs Brooks’s employment, she is not being tried, is she, because she was the editor of a tabloid newspaper?
“Views, as we all understand, differ about the tabloid press, and the worth or otherwise of the tabloid press within the broad spectrum of the media.
“Neither is she on trial for having worked for Rupert Murdoch’s company or for having worked her way up, literally from the bottom, through that organisation.
“She is not being tried for News International’s strategy, for its policies, its influences, or its corporate views.
“Politics next. Neither is Mrs Brooks on trial for any political views she may hold, neither is she to be judged for the support that the newspapers she edited gave to one particular political party at one time or another.”
The barrister told the jurors that the list was not exhaustive, but he wanted to show them how important it was that they remained focused and not distracted.
He added: “There is, isn’t there, an awful lot which is going on in the background to this case and in its shadow?
“There are agendas as you can all see, being pursued elsewhere, so please just be careful and keep an open mind and stay focused upon what matters.”
Mr Laidlaw told the jury it was important for them to see the ex-tabloid editor “as she is” and “begin the process of working out whether there is any truth in any of the allegations made against her”.