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Jun 25, 2014

Rundle: Brooks sheds the devil's mark, does Australia beckon?

Andy Coulson has been found guilty of phone hacking, but redhead editrix Rebekah Brooks has got off scott-free. Where will she be heading next? Crikey's writer-at-large speculates she could be Australia-bound.

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The redhead striding out of court in that weird Puritan costume of hers … who is she meant to be? Joan of Arc? Pocahontas? God knows. She said nothing, stepped into a waiting car. In court she’d sobbed when the verdict was read out. Rebekah Brooks, not guilty on all counts, conspiracy in phone hacking, perverting the course of justice … Her PA and security honcho were also off the hook. Less lucky was Andy Coulson, her former underling, lover, lover underling, tabloid editor and adviser to David Cameron, guilty of conspiracy in phone hacking. He reportedly sighed when the verdict was read out.

Yes, the verdicts of the hacking trial have come out, with most of the accused — Brooks’ shire’s-idiot husband, Charlie Brooks, as well– slipping the noose. The verdict was unanimous by the 11-person jury, although a majority verdict would have swung it as well. To say it was a surprise would be an understatement — for nearly eight months the trial had unfolded a process of systemic illegal phone hacking over years at the “red top” Murdoch tabloids, The Sun and the News of the World, had shown how it was embedded deep in the daily process of the papers, both of which Brooks had edited during the period. Added to it was a comical, farcical process when the Brookses, and staff, given courteous warning of a raid by the plod they’d been paying off for years, appeared to ditch a whole lot of office files, as well as Charlie’s mobile porn stash and unfinished novel.

The shock echoed round the world. I saw it in on CNN in a hotel bar in Jakarta, half a mile above the smoke haze. The bartender switched channels, but it was on the Beeb, France 24, even Russia Today. The Australia Network had Mother and Son. His Rupertness maintained a Twitter silence, staff-imposed perhaps (“Cheese! What’s that for?”), but he didn’t need to say much. Everyone kinda thinks he got away with running a scoop-dependent celeb stalker organisation by squandering the “wiggle room” that journos are accorded in the pursuit — and thus making it harder to use such techniques when warranted. Convictions in London would have made an FBI investigation of News America not merely more likely, but obligatory. They’re still possible — they may be underway via sealed grand juries — but the sense of crisis slipped back a little.

The verdicts prompted howls of outrage from those who’d be following, and comparisons to the travesty heaped on Peter Greste and colleagues in Egypt — but one would want to be a little circumspect about that. Greste and Co. were convicted on no evidence at all of a non-crime. The hackgate trial drowned in information, narrative and gossip, but the charges themselves related to quite specific hacking incidents, and proving them might have proved difficult. It’s easy to second-guess a jury, but they’ve spent eight months across it all — and they looked like a pretty conscientious bunch when I popped in on the trial, several taking copious notes, only a couple of possible nongs. We’ll know more if some of them start to speak up in the next few weeks.

Brooks swept out, husband in tow, while Coulson stayed behind, still waiting on verdicts on a couple of remaining charges. That’s how it will be from now on. Brooks goes back to the life, Coulson to appeal, prison if that fails, and a perjury trial in Scotland, arising from these convictions. PM David Cameron, who hired him off Murdoch, sent out a statement saying that it was a mistake to have hired him in the first place. Coulson doesn’t have a lot of juice — he’s a speccy showbiz reporter who became a red-top editor when the papers finally became one big celeb sheet. There was speculation that Brooks’ tears and near collapse were due to Coulson taking the bullet, and Brooks’ guilt thereat. If it was, it’ll pass. With a bit of luck Rupe will send her south, so to speak, so she can run things Down Under. That’d be a fun 10 months.

The British papers had a field day with the news …

Never mind — in the hours after, she garnered hero tweets from Jeremy Clarkson, Piers Morgan and Louise Mensch, nee Bagshawe. Can Tony Blair be far behind? My god, what an awful bunch of people. Even the crowd in the bar seemed to think that, and most of them were organ traffickers. Hester Prynne, free of the devil’s mark — yeah, I know it’s tenuous, but that’s what she looked like, goddamnit — striding into the golden future. So they hope. So they all hope.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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