REBEKAH Brooks spent £159,000 to buy the story of a prostitute caught performing a sex act on Hugh Grant, the phone-hacking trial heard on Thursday.
Divine Brown was paid $100,000 (£64,000) directly by the News of the World for her sordid story and the tabloid lavished another £95,000 flying her and her entire family by private jet to a luxury resort in the Nevada desert.
Brooks, then the features editor, said this was to prevent rival newspapers spoiling their exclusive story about Grant.
But she denied there was a “dark arts department” for phone hacking at the News of the World, which she later edited.
Brooks, 45, told the Old Bailey she knew nothing of the illegal interception of voicemails by the tabloid’s private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and had never heard his name mentioned when she was editor.
It was her first chance to defend herself after four months of prosecution claims that she was central in a conspiracy at the News of the World and The Sun to hack phones and to corrupt public officials.
While recounting her rapid rise through the “old school misogyny” of the newspaper world, Brooks told how as the News of the World’s features editor, her speciality was buying up celebrities for exclusive stories.
When Four Weddings And A Funeral star Grant was arrested with Miss Brown in a car on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard in June 1995, the paper’s US editor and a colleague managed to track down the prostitute after she was released from custody.
Brooks said she spent her entire weekly budget of £60,000 chartering a plane for Miss Brown – real name Estella Marie Thompson – and her family.
Miss Brown had been traced to her family home by one of the paper’s reporters, a former private investigator, after her arrest with Mr Grant in Los Angeles.
“We flew them to a place in Nevada - the desert”, she added, breaking into laughter. “It seems silly now, but it was really important.
“She was very smart. She wanted all her family relocated so we had to hire a plane because there were so many of them... it ended up costing around $200,000... $250,000. It was probably one of the biggest expenses I had done, which is why I have a relatively clear memory of it.” She later had to explain the “huge cost” to the paper’s editor and managing editor.
Brooks moved to The Sun in January 1998 and said she brought her contacts with her.
One was Spurs footballer Paul Gascoigne, whom she paid £50,000 to £80,000 for an exclusive interview about his domestic violence towards his former wife Sheryl. She also “dealt a lot” with PR guru Max Clifford, who “brokered stories” to her.
Brooks – one of the most influential women in Britain until her arrest over the hacking allegations – had smiled as she entered the witness box, moments after hearing one of the charges against her had been dropped.
Dressed in a demure cream cardigan with pearl buttons and a knee-length royal blue shift dress, and with her red curls pinned back off her face, she spoke softly and hesitantly of how her career began sweeping newsroom floors and making tea but took her into the corridors of power by the age of 29.
It included meetings with Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson before they entered Government and careers advice from Rupert Murdoch. The media tycoon entered her office when she was appointed deputy editor at the News of the World and told her: “You”ve got a long career ahead, take your time and learn on the job.”
He told her to avoid publicity and that he did not want her ‘spouting forth opinions” on current affairs programmes.
She said: “He gave good advice – you are a newspaper executive, it’s hard work, keep your head down.”
Initially faltering and hesitant, Brooks had been warned she was likely to spend a long time in the witness box.
She appeared to grow in composure as she was challenged directly about the phone-hacking allegations.
The jury has heard that Mulcaire has admitted targeting dozens of celebrities on the orders of former News of the World journalists Greg Miskiw and Neville Thurlbeck. The three have admitted conspiring to hack phones.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for Brooks, asked her if she had ever heard any of her journalists talk about Mulcaire while she was editor, between May 2000 and January 2003.
“No,” she answered immediately. She said she had known the tabloid used private detectives – as did other newspapers, City firms and lawyers – but insisted she had never heard Mulcaire’s name mentioned, nor had any knowledge of his involvement in phone hacking.
Mr Laidlaw said the prosecution had alleged she had established an investigations unit dubbed the “dark arts department” specifically to hack phones. “That’s not true,” Brooks replied, adding: “I don’t recognise that description.”
Brooks said she was proud of the undercover work carried out by the News of the World, which had been in the public interest. She told the jury it was “impossible” for an editor to know the source for every article in their newspaper.
She described the “incredibly competitive” atmosphere inside the tabloid – once Britain’s best-selling newspaper – and said her rapid promotion had exposed her to sexist jibes.
“There was probably a bit of old school misogyny added into the competition there would have been if I was a bloke,” she said.
“The competitiveness was engrained into the News of the World... It was a tough world.”
rooks denies four charges of conspiring to hack phones, commit misconduct and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, and her former lover, ex-News of the World Andy Coulson, watched from the dock as she gave her evidence. They also deny all the charges against them.
The trial continues.
REBEKAH AND THE “NEW LABOUR CREW”
Brooks told how she met the “original New Labour crew” before The Sun and News of the World famously switched political allegiance, ahead of the party’s landslide victory over John Major’s Conservatives in 1997.
Two years earlier, Tony Blair had flown to speak at a News Corp conference. Brooks said: “That was the start of the developing relationship between New Labour and The Sun and the News of the World.”
She described attending a Labour rally on education in 1996. Her then boyfriend, EastEnders actor Ross Kemp, was a member of the Labour Party and was asked to open the rally for Mr Blair.
“I went with him and that’s when I met the New Labour team – Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, Alastair Campbell and his wife Fiona Millar and Peter Mandelson – the original New Labour crew,” Brooks said.
The jury has heard that Mr Blair offered advice to Brooks and the Murdochs when the phone-hacking scandal forced the closure of the News of the World in July 2011. The ex-PM told Brooks to “tough up”.
WILLIAM CHARGE IS DROPPED
Jurors were instructed yesterday to find Brooks not guilty of one charge of misconduct in public office – paying for a photograph of Prince William in a bikini.
Mr Justice Saunders said there was insufficient evidence and told the jury: “I have decided that there is no case for Ms Brooks to answer.”
The charge related to a story in The Sun in 2006 about the Prince attending a James Bond party dressed as a Bond girl in a bikini and an open Hawaiian shirt.
A Sun journalist was said to have asked Brooks to authorise a £4,000 payment for the story which he said came from a source at Sandhurst.
She still faces four charges. Opening Brooks” defence, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, said she was not on trial for the sins of the tabloid Press.
He added that she should not be judged on her political connections or the fact she was a leading figure in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
“She is not being tried for News International’s strategy, its policies, its influences, or its corporate views,” he said. - Daily Mail