A British prosecutor has claimed in court that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, two newspaper editors accused of conspiracy in a widely followed phone-hacking scandal, had a secret affair over six years, from 1998 to 2004. The prosecutor, Andrew Edis, said Thursday that the affair occurred while the pair were allegedly involved in illegal eavesdropping at the News of the World, which was owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch before its closure. According to Edis, the period covered by the affair included the 2002 episode in which the newspaper allegedly hacked Milly Dowler’s phone. Dowler, 13, was murdered.
The prosecutor said he was introducing at the trial a letter from Brooks describing the affair, to demonstrate Brooks’s and Coulson’s close relationship:
“What Mr Coulson knew, Mrs Brooks knew too and what Mrs Brooks knew, Mr Coulson knew too, that is the point. Because it’s clear from that letter as [of] February 2004 they had been having an affair which had lasted at least six years. So that takes us right back to 1998 which is the whole conspiracy period,” Edis told the jury. . . .
Edis explained that the letter had been found on a computer when the Met police investigating the phone-hacking scandal in 2011 searched her home. “A computer was found in a cupboard in Mrs Brooks’s London address and it was examined. On it was found a Word document written by her to Mr Coulson.
“It seems to be in February 2004 and it was written undoubtedly to Mr Coulson. Whether it was ever sent or received by him we do not know, because the evidence is the document on the computer,” Edis told the jury.
The court heard that the letter – apparently written by Brooks in response to Coulson trying to end the affair – included a declaration of her love for her colleague.
Edis said the letter was “intelligent” and “well written” and appeared to have been written after Coulson “was seeking to break off the affair”.
It was “perfectly obvious from the letter that this caused her a great deal of grief,” Edis said.
The prosecutor added that he would only read out the last part of the letter and there was no way of knowing if it had been sent or received.
Brooks wrote: “Finally, the least of my worries, but how do we then work this new relationship? There are hundreds of things which have happened since Saturday that I would normally share with you.”. . .
Edis told jurors he was not revealing the affair to deliberately intrude into their privacy or to make a “moral judgment,” before giving his reasons for its disclosure.
“But Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson are charged with conspiracy and when people are charged with conspiracy, the first question a jury has to answer is how well did they know each other? How much did they trust each other?
“And the fact that they were in this relationship which was a secret means that they trusted each other quite a lot with at least that secret, and that’s why we are telling you about it.”
Both Brooks and Coulson are close to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Coulson was his communications director, the Associated Press reports. The case against them involves several other people and a number of incidents of alleged eavesdropping:
Brooks and Coulson, both 45, Brooks’ current husband Charles Brooks, and five others are on trial in the first major criminal case spawned by the revelation of the paper’s eavesdropping. The eight defendants all deny a variety of charges related to phone hacking, bribing officials and obstructing a police inquiry.
The phone hacking scandal forced Murdoch to shut the 168-year-old News of the World, triggered police inquiries into phone hacking and bribery by journalists and has created intense pressure on Britain’s freewheeling tabloid press to mend its ways.
In his opening statement Thursday, Edis laid out the prosecution’s claim that Brooks, Coulson and other senior editors must have known about phone hacking that went on for years at the News of the World and its sister paper, The Sun.
He said News of the World journalists, with consent from the tabloid’s top editors, colluded to eavesdrop on the voice mail messages of phones of politicians, royalty, celebrities and even rival reporters in a “frenzy” to get scoops.
He showed the jury detailed records — audio recordings, notes and email trails — of what he said were phone-hacking assignments from the News of the World to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. The targets included former Labour Cabinet ministers Tessa Jowell, John Prescott and David Blunkett — whose own affair was revealed in a sting on his girlfriend’s phone.
Mulcaire also targeted royal family member Lord Frederick Windsor, two journalists from the rival Mail on Sunday, and Dowler’s phone, the prosecutor said.
Brooks married her first husband, Ross Kemp, in 2002. Two years earlier, Coulson had married his wife, Eloise.