Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International (now News UK), took the stand for the first time today in London’s long-running phone-hacking trial. This was Brooks’ first time in the witness box since the criminal trial stemming from the phone-hacking scandal at the now-shuttered News Of The World began in October. After nearly four months, prosecutors rested their case this week and the defense is just beginning. According to local media reports, the presiding judge, John Saunders, instructed jurors that Brooks is to be found not guilty on one of the five counts against her. She was acquitted on the single charge of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office related to payments The Sun allegedly made for a picture of Prince William wearing a bikini at a costume party. “There is no case to answer for Mrs Brooks” on the charge, the judge said. The Guardian reports he told the jury his decision was “a matter of law.” He did not provide further detail, but The Associated Press reports Saunders said there was “considerable uncertainty” about the photo’s provenance. The photo was taken when William, now the Duke of Cambridge, was at Sandhurst Military Academy and Brooks was editor of The Sun.
Related: Trial Of Former Murdoch Newspaper Lieutenants Starts In London
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Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage.
UPDATE, 4:09 PM: The UK government today announced a fresh sweep of press regulation reforms, brought about as a result of the News Of The World phone-hacking brouhaha. But key newspaper groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News International, have refused to endorse the government’s proposals. A late-night round of cross-party negotiations prevented a potentially embarrassing rebellion from within David Cameron’s own party as the two proposals were brought to consensus. The final reforms will see British papers regulated by a watchdog run completely independently of the media. Fines of up to £1M — thought to be the toughest in the world — would be handed down to the worst offenders. And the only legal statute relates to the right of ministers to change the rules in future, designed to prevent any possible corruptions to freedom of speech.
In a group statement signed by News International, along with Daily Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, the Telegraph media group and Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, newspaper proprietors say the proposals feature “several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry”. As one senior exec told the Guardian, “This is a political deal between the three parties and Hacked Off,” referring to the campaign group fronted by Hugh Grant. “It is not a deal with the newspapers.” Read More »
Embattled ex-News International chief Rebekah Brooks appeared in a London court this morning for 4 minutes to provide her name, home address and date of birth. She was in the dock at the Westminster Magistrates Court on charges of phone hacking that were lodged against her last month and was given conditional bail. The bail stipulates she can’t contact her six former colleagues who are facing similar charges, the she must reside at her home address and that she give a week’s notice if she intends to leave the country, UK media reports.
In early August, Rupert Murdoch’s former lieutenant was formally charged on three counts of alleged phone hacking. One was a general charge that could affect as many as 600 victims including celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Read More »
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage:
Tonight’s Scotland Yard development was expected. Rebekah Brooks will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on September 3rd. The police statement lists Brooks as “unemployed”. The 44-year-old executive who ran Rupert Murdoch‘s UK newspaper business and top-edited the News Of the World answered bail at Lewisham police station. She stands accused of one general charge of alleged phone hacking between October 2000 and August 2006 that could affect as many as 600 victims including famous television and film stars including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Sienna Miller, and Sadie Frost. The charges place Brooks at the center of the Crown Prosecution Service’s case against the defunct News Of The World tabloid. Brooks also faces specific charges of illegally accessing the mobile phone voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Read More »
A UK parliamentary committee has published a letter from Surrey police about the investigation into the disappearance and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The letter is presented as evidence in the committee’s investigation into phone hacking and attempts to establish a timeline of conversations between the Surrey police and News Of The World reporters. The document demonstrates how reporters interfered with police progress on the missing persons case back in 2002 by misrepresenting themselves and making dodgy claims in the pursuit of a story. The letter further shows that reporters revealed knowledge of messages on the girl’s phone. However, the report stops short of elucidating the question of whether messages on her phone were deleted by the journalists, saying that’s still being investigted by the Metropolitan police. “When and the extent to which Milly’s mobile phone voicemail was unlawfully accessed (and whether any messages were deleted) are matters which form part of the MPS’s ongoing investigation.” In separate but related news, Rupert Murdoch tweeted the following this morning: “No excuses for phone hacking. No argument. No excuses either for copyright stealing, but plenty of ignorant argument!”
The Guardian in the UK is among those reporting that a woman who served as former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks’ personal assistant for 19 years has been arrested in connection with the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal. UK press report that Cheryl Carter was picked up this morning on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice in a police probe. It’s the latest evidence that investigators are still focused in on the top brass of News Corp’s UK newspaper arm and have not backed away from looking at Brooks, who was arrested in July after the scandal that shuttered NOTW broke open. Carter no longer works for News International or Brooks, the Guardian said.
News Corp is in discussions with D.C. attorney Gerson Zweifach as its new general counsel, Bloomberg reported late this afternoon. Whoever takes the job could assume a crucial role for News Corp as investigations and Parliamentary testimony continue in the U.K. phone-hacking scandal. During his more than 29 years at Williams & Connolly LLP, Zweifach has trial experience in a wide variety of legal areas including antitrust, securities, libel and commercial cases, according to the firm’s website. There have been at least 21 arrests in fallout from the News of the World case including a female police officer who was picked up and released this week. News Corp board member Joel Klein is overseeing the company’s internal investigation of its journalists’ behavior. Zweifach would replace Lawrence Jacobs, who left in June. Some at the company say Jacobs quit because he felt Klein was encroaching on his turf. News International subsidiary board menber Janet Nova has been serving as interim general counsel.
UPDATE: Paul McCartney’s ex-wife Heather Mills has declared she is being made a “scapegoat” by Piers Morgan. Mills’ name popped up repeatedly at a Tuesday session of the Leveson Inquiry into UK press ethics during which Morgan was grilled about a message left by McCartney on Mills’ voice mail which he previously said had been played for him. The erstwhile News Of The World and Daily Mirror editor refused to reveal who played the message, but it was suggested it was Mills or someone authorized by her. In a statement posted to her website, Mills writes in part: “For the avoidance of doubt, I can categorically state that I have never ever played Piers Morgan a tape of any kind, never mind a voice message from my ex-husband. Piers Morgan is doing all he can to deter the Leveson inquiry from finishing their important job. Morgan is using me as his scapegoat and I would be more than happy to answer any questions that the inquiry would like to put to me.” Lord Justice Leveson on Tuesday said he was considering calling Mills.
PREVIOUS: London police arrested a female officer on suspicion of corruption in connection with a multipronged investigation into activity connected to phone hacking at the shuttered News of the World. Additionally, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson lost a bid to force publisher News Group to pay … Read More »
CNN talk show host Piers Morgan denied any wrongdoing in the current phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the British media. At the end of a very tough session of the Leveson Inquiry into UK press ethics, Morgan told the panel he felt “like a rock star having an album of his worst ever hits” thrust at him as the former News Of The World and Daily Mirror editor. Sitting under a halo of soft light in an unadorned room back in Los Angeles, Morgan spent over two hours giving evidence on such topics as rumor mongering, phone hacking, and Paul McCartney’s voicemails. His testimony was piped into the inquiry room in London, where the exchanges were decidedly strained. It all got off to a rocky start when Robert Jay, counsel for the inquiry, asked Morgan to confirm he was currently employed by CNN. “Yes, it’s clearly passed you by, Mr. Jay,” Morgan quipped when Jay said he’d heard the cable news network’s Piers Morgan Tonight was “apparently” very popular in America. Jay then consistently brought up past interviews and passages from Morgan’s own books to challenge the CNN host. Morgan said he’d never to his knowledge listened to what he believed to be illegally obtained messages, and said he had no knowledge or reason to believe there was phone hacking at the Daily Mirror during his tenure. At one point, Jay exclaimed: “Oh, come on Mr Morgan, [the Mirror] was at the top of the list of the perpetrators. And you well know that.” Morgan shot back: “You also know not a single person has made a formal complaint against the Daily Mirror. So why would you say that?” Read More »
Piers Morgan, the CNN host who was editor of News Corp’s now-shuttered News of the World between 1994-95, will appear next week before a UK inquiry investigating media ethics in the wake of the tabloid’s phone-hacking scandal. The Piers Morgan Tonight host and former America’s Got Talent judge had said over Thanksgiving that he would appear soon, and today his PR rep confirmed that he will do so sometime next week. The panel has already heard from such victims as Sienna Miller, JK Rowling and Hugh Grant. Morgan likely will face questions about allegations that he allowed hacking while working at another UK tabloid, the Daily Mirror, and that he personally listened to intercepted voicemails; he has denied such charges.
In some of the most startling testimony yet in the British government’s investigation into press ethics and phone hacking, former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan declared Tuesday that departed editor Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks were well aware of and actively encouraged illegal voicemail interception. To a direct question of whether Coulson and Brooks knew phone voicemails were being intercepted, McMullan replied, “Yes.” Coulson and Brooks have repeatedly declared either their ignorance or denied that the activity was taking place. Defending the practice, McMullan said ”I don’t think anyone realized that anyone was committing a crime at the start” and asserted that “Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool given the sacrifices we make, if all we are trying to do is get to the truth.” Read More »
The names of at least 28 employees of News Corp’s U.K. subsidiary appear in notes seized from a private investigator who specialized in phone hacking, the chief counsel for the government’s inquiry into the scandal surrounding News International and the shuttered News of the World tabloid says. “At least 27 other NI employees” in addition to the jailed former royal editor Clive Goodman appear in notes of Glenn Mulcaire, the PI who was also jailed for intercepting voicemails in January 2007. Chief counsel Robert Jay said the number of names that appear scribbled on Mulcaire’s notes “suggests wide-ranging, illegal activity within the organization.” Police also now suspect that phone hacking may have continued until 2009, which would include Murdoch’s tenure that began in 2007. Suspicion of wrongdoing has also spread to another News International paper, the Sun, and to a competitor, the Daily Mirror, whose parent Trinity Mirror’s spokesman said the company has no knowledge of ever using Mulcaire. Read More »
James Murdoch can breathe a little easier, if Parliament’s conclusion about his and former employees’ roles in phone-hacking plays out the way the Guardian predicted Friday. While Murdoch’s MP inquisitors seem inclined to believe the News International chairman’s assertions that he was never informed of the full extent of what had been taking place at News of the World, the paper’s former lawyer Tom Crone and former Editor Colin Myler aren’t likely to get off as easily. Both Crone and Myler are expected to be censured by the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee for failure to disclose all the evidence they were aware of at previous hearings. Murdoch has consistently maintained that Crone, Myler and Les Hinton, among others, never apprised him of the full extent of phone-hacking, for which MPs will at worst characterize the News Corp deputy COO as spectacularly ill-informed.
Following Murdoch’s emergence from Thursday’s second Parliamentary grilling relatively unscathed, the board of British Sky Broadcasting on Friday expressed confidence in his continued performance as chairman of the satellite broadcaster. “We agreed that James Murdoch has done a first class job,” Nicholas Ferguson, BSkyB’s senior independent director, said in a letter to investors asserting that Murdoch’s handling of the scandal had “no effect on sales, customers or suppliers over the last five months.” A group of British pension funds who hold about 1% of … Read More »
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UPDATE: James Murdoch confidently and steadfastly maintained that he has been cooperative and fully forthcoming about what he knew and did not know when he testified at his previous appearance before MPs. Facing hostile questioning and bristling at suggestions the business under his supervision was like the mafia, Murdoch cooly but aggressively continues to maintain he was never informed of the specific contents of a damning email about the News Of The World‘s level of involvement or that there was any evidence of widespread phone-hacking. In a stark “they said/he said” contradiction of the former executives’ assertions, he reiterated that former News International lawyer Tom Crone and News Of The World former editor Colin Myler never showed him or disclosed to him all the legal documents surrounding the phone-hacking scandal. When asked about Crone and Myler’s assertions that he was informed, Murdoch said, “It is inconsistent and not right.” Furthermore, when he took over News Corp’s UK businesses, Murdoch said outgoing executive Les Hinton never discussed phone hacking with him. Frustrated by Murdoch’s insistence that none of his subordinates ever disclosed to him the full amount of any evidence they appear to have supplied his inquisitors, Tom Watson, long the Murdochs’ toughest and most persistent critic, countered: “You must be the first Mafia boss in history not to know he was running a criminal enterprise.”
LIVE-BLOGGING 1:26 PM: Paul Farrelly … Read More »
Observers I have spoken to predict that News Corp’s James Murdoch will be better briefed than he was in July — and may admit to a small mea culpa — when he returns to Parliament tomorrow to answer questions about the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal. He’s expected to continue to defend his inaction about the lawbreaking in the face of mounting evidence that he must have known more about the problem earlier in the process than he previously testified. Back in July, he denied knowing until late 2008 that phone-hacking at NOTW went beyond one rogue reporter. That would clear him of the charge that he authorized hush-money earlier in the year when he approved a $1.4M settlement for a hacking victim who knew that a second reporter was involved — on the condition that the victim he keep quiet about the matter. Since Murdoch testified, senior News International executives have gone public and said James must have known the gory details because they told him. And a devastating legal opinion has come to light from lawyer Michael Silverleaf, who worked for News International and pointed out that NOTW had a culture of illegal information-gathering. There is no smoking gun to contradict James, just vague notes written up after briefing meetings with him. Read More »
More bad news for James Murdoch today ahead of his appearance next week before the UK Parliament’s culture committee, which is investigating the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal. The committee just released a tranche of legal correspondence that includes a letter supporting James’ chief opponents, former NOTW in-house lawyer Tom Crone and editor Colin Myler. They testified in September that they were “certain” Murdoch knew in 2008 about an email that indicated more than one journalist was involved in the lawbreaking — blowing a hole in the Murdoch’s claim that at the time he believed the trouble was limited to a single “rogue” reporter. If they’re right, then it suggests Murdoch tried to cover up the extent of the lawbreaking that year when he authorized a $1.4M out-of-court settlement with a non-disclosure clause to soccer chief Gordon Taylor, a hacking victim who knew that a second reporter had been implicated. One big question is whether the executives appreciated the implications of the email — addressed “For Neville” — that included transcripts from private calls. A just-released letter that Crone wrote to Myler on May 24, 2008, prior to a meeting with Murdoch indicates that they did. It said that the email “is fatal to our case” against Taylor. Read More »
UPDATE: Giving evidence to British MPs investigating the News Corp phone-hacking scandal this afternoon via video-link, former Wall Street Journal boss Les Hinton said he saw “no reason” why James Murdoch should resign. Hinton testified that he hasn’t spoken to the Metropolitan police about phone-hacking, nor has Viet Dinh, the independent News Corp board member who’s overseeing the company’s investigation into the scandal, questioned him. Hinton also wasn’t aware of any payments to police or other private detectives working for News International. And he was “not personally involved” in internal investigations into phone hacking at News International, the UK newspaper arm, when he was executive chairman. John Whittingdale, chairman of the UK parliamentary committee cross-examining Hinton, was overheard telling a fellow MP that Hinton’s evidence was “interesting, but that there was no bombshell there.”
PREVIOUS: News Corp deputy COO James Murdoch will face British MPs for a second time on November 10. He will defend himself as to whether he misled British politicians investigating the phone-hacking at the News Of The World. The $64,000 question is this: Did James pay $1.4M in hush money in 2008 to a hacking victim who could have disclosed that the scandal ran much deeper than the company publicly admitted? James said he didn’t. But three former News executives dispute the testimony he gave in July when he last faced MPs. His enemies say either James knew more about hacking than he admitted or, as chairman of UK newspaper arm News International, he ought to have known. Les Hinton, the former Wall Street Journal boss and Rupert Murdoch confidante, has been called to testify today. Read More »
The hacker who broke into the email accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis and dozens of other celebrities has been identified as an apparently unemployed 35-year-old man living in Jacksonville, Fla., who the FBI said didn’t appear to have done it for money even though several allegedly pilfered images wound up on celebrity websites. From his personal computer, the L.A. Times reported, Christopher Chaney allegedly scoured celebrity magazines, websites and Twitter and Facebook posts to glean email addresses and password clues from the names of friends, children, siblings, pets or any seemingly innocuous personal information. Beginning in November 2010, the FBI said, Chaney hacked as many as 50 victims, many of them from electronic address books. Even if he didn’t try to sell information or photos or try to blackmail his targets, it’s way creepy, and if convicted Chaney faces up to 120 years in prison.
Hugh Grant, as Deadline revealed over the summer, backed out of replacing Charlie Sheen as the star of Two and a Half Men at the last minute. Now he is filming Cloud Atlas with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent for the Wachowski brothers. But he has reinvented himself over here as a justice campaigner on behalf of celebrities and civilians like himself who had their phones hacked in the News Corp scandal. He has always been ambivalent about being a movie star, and has long talked about doing something different. Asked if he had been wasting his life until now, Grant told The Guardian: “That is harsh, but yes. If I had been a complete failure until the age of 51, I would definitely go along with you but I suppose I have had a few successes. But yes, you are right. I have squandered my life.”
Britain is taking him seriously on the hacking scandal. Grant was giving interviews before meeting Prime Minister David Cameron in Manchester last night. He said he wanted to hear directly from the politician too close to Rupert Murdoch’s organisation. Following the meeting, Grant said that Cameron made “the right noises but I expected him to make the right noises”. Grant alleges that Cameron must have known disgraced Murdoch editor Andy Coulson oversaw a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World before hiring him as his chief PR flack. why he accepted Coulson’s explanation that … Read More »