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Jan 22, 2014

Lesbian porn and a new life in Perth: phone-hacking trial dishes dirt

It's getting dirty in the courtroom examining whether Rebekah Brooks, her husband, PA and ex-lover conspired to cover-up phone-hacking at the News of the World. And there's more to come.

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While in the northern hemisphere, we head towards Blue Monday — the fourth Monday in January, said by scientists to be the saddest day of the year (and equally sadly, a complete media beat-up) — the News International “hackgate” trial burbles along quietly in the background.

Flame-haired Murdoch family consigliere Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade, pictured), her husband, Charlie, Rebekah Brooks’ colleague and much more Andy Coulson, and several other people stand charged with a range of crimes, chief among them “perverting the course of justice”, owing to some alleged attempts to hide evidence in the midst of renewed police investigations into phone hacking at the now defunct Murdoch title News of the World.

A quick recap: several years ago, Prince William and a TV producer he was working with, following a series of royal tittle-tattle stories in the NotW, worked out that their phones had been hacked. They complained to the plod, who had ignored numerous inquiries from celebs about possible hacking hitherto — but couldn’t ignore the royals. NotW royal hack Clive Goodman took the fall and went to prison for engaging the services of a dodgy “detective” Glenn Mulcaire. The story slumbered for a few years, until news of a series of secret payouts to hacked celebs began to leak out through The Guardian and Private Eye. When the floodgates opened, it became clear there had been hacking on a mass scale, almost certainly run with the full knowledge of NotW editor Coulson and other editors at the paper. When it was revealed the paper had hacked into the phone of missing — in fact, murdered — teen Milly Dowler, public prurience turned to revulsion, kicking off a full-scale inquiry — which revealed that the Met police, many getting consultancy payments from Rupert Murdoch, had buried thousands of complaints. Murdoch tried to get the jump by creating an internal investigation committee. As multiple police investigations kicked into high gear, it is alleged that Brooks attempted to remove files from a News International building, together with her husband and some others. They were charged, and the trial began in December.

From the start, it’s been a revelation chiefly of how substantial these interconnecting operations were, both haphazard and also mutually untrustworthy. Among the early evidence concerning Mulcaire was the seizure of four whiteboards filled with information and arrows connecting the names of Brooks/Wade/etc to others. Shoddiness? Not wiping the boards? Insurance? Since Mulcaire has pleaded guilty to everything, one suspects the latter.

The trial revealed how dependent the paper had become on Mulcaire’s illegal hacking — NotW was paying him more than 100,000 pounds a year, with top-ups for specific jobs, more than its entire budget for the World Cup. Much of the hacking appears to have been done from a series of secret phone lines installed at NotW, outside of the main phone system. But the hacking was not confined to outsiders. Reporters themselves were bugged, with the Coulson order to “do his phone” going out when it was suspected celebs were being tipped off by friendly insiders who had cultivated a relationship with them.

Following the Christmas/New Year break, the topic shifted to the cover-up, with suggestions that Rebekah Brooks’ PA, Cheryl Carter — accused of moving a number of file boxes on her boss’ instructions — was given a job in Perth as a reward (Perth is a reward?) for loyal service, i.e. disposing of notebooks. As the hackgate crisis widened, Brooks, under no illusions about the organisation she worked for, had her own office swept for bugs.

But the kiss of the whip came this week, when the trial turned its attentions to Brooks’ husband, Charlie, a horse breeder and Cotswoldian by profession, who is accused of disposing of evidence on his wife’s behalf, some of it possibly captured on CCTV — and some of it involving chucking a briefcase behind a bin in a public car park, as the plod closed in. Unhappily for Charlie, the briefcase was found by a cleaner and handed in — so the court was treated to the joy of pawing through his belongings, which included a pig breeders’ newsletter, some letters to his mum, and a rather significant amount of porn.

One magazine — Lesbian Lovers — and seven DVDs, in fact, also with a strong Sapphic theme (Instant Lesbian, Lesbian Psychodramas volumes two and three — although these may simply be two boring Lisa Cholodenko movies under a separate cover– and Lanny, Tera and Briana). Other titles: Bride of Sin, 10 Petites Salopes and, most confusingly of all, Where The Boys Aren’t 17 (where they’re 12? 80?). Good to see someone still buys porn the old-fashioned way. Very Murdoch, to stand for traditional values.

Murdoch loyalists such as David Aaronovitch squawked that reporting of such was an invasion of privacy, before being gently reminded that the defence had brought the bag’s contents into evidence — to establish an alternative motive for Charlie Brooks to be hiding it away from view.

The trial continues. Those who want a real-time blow-by-blow can follow Peter Jukes (@peterjukes), who is live-tweeting it (and requesting small donations).

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