LONDON – Former British tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks testified in court Tuesday that she was unaware phone hacking was illegal but was shocked to discover someone at her newspaper had tapped into the voicemails of a kidnapped teenager who was later found slain.
Brooks, onetime editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World, said the first time she’d heard that the cellphone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler had been hacked was in July 2011, nearly a decade after the event.
The revelation that the tabloid had accessed the missing girl’s voicemail messages in search of a scoop mushroomed into a national scandal in Britain, resulting in a wave of public revulsion, the shutdown of the News of the World, the end of Brooks’ journalistic career, the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard and the arrests of dozens of people in an investigation that is still underway.
Brooks, who is on trial for conspiring to hack telephones, testified Tuesday that she felt “shock, horror, everything” upon learning that Milly’s phone had been tapped into. “I just think anyone would think that that was pretty abhorrent, so my reaction was that," she said.
Brooks, 45, denied any knowledge of or responsibility for what happened, though she was the News of the World’s editor at the time. She said she was on vacation in Dubai with her then-husband when the missing teen’s voicemails were hacked in April 2002.
Brooks told a jury in London’s famed Old Bailey courthouse that she had never approved phone-hacking at the tabloid.
“No journalist ever came to me and said, ‘We’re working on so-and-so a story, but we need to access their voicemail’” and then sought her permission, she said.
She conceded that she did not know such a practice was against the law but said she would still have regarded it as a serious breach of privacy. She acknowledged that in some hypothetical situations, such as trying to ensnare a pedophile, she might see the value in hacking.
Milly’s cellphone was accessed by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator hired by the News of the World to help ferret out information for its often sensational stories. Despite being editor, Brooks said she had no idea that Mulcaire was on a contract worth more than $150,000.
Brooks is one of seven co-defendants in the trial. Besides conspiring to hack telephones, she faces three other charges, including obstruction of justice. Prosecutors allege that she and her husband, Charlie Brooks, tried to get rid of incriminating evidence and cover their tracks after the hacking scandal broke.
Murdoch's media empire has since paid millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements with celebrities, politicians and other public figures whose phones were hacked. Police have said that the number of hacking victims could be in the hundreds.
Twitter: @HenryHChuCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times