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British Court Acquits Ex-Murdoch Aide On One Count In Hacking Case

By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times

LONDON — A London court acquitted former newspaper executive Rebekah Brooks on one of the five charges she faces in Britain’s high-profile trial of seven former senior staff members and journalists from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. on charges related to an extensive phone hacking scandal.

Brooks was acquitted on a count of misconduct tied to charges that she paid $6,000 in 2006 for a photograph of Prince William dressed in a bikini at a party to be published in the Sun, a Murdoch-owned tabloid she edited at the time. Presiding Judge John Saunders told the jury there was no case to be made because the source of the photo was uncertain.

Brooks, 45, faces other charges of illegal payments to public officials, all of which she denies, and of authorizing phone hacking by journalists during her time as editor of Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World between 2000 and 2003.

The decision came as the jury heard the first defense testimony in the case.

The court heard from defense lawyer Jonathan Laidlow, who described Brooks’ meteoric rise to features editor at age 27, deputy editor at 29 and then editor of Murdoch’s News of the World, one of Britain’s most popular Sunday tabloids, the Times of London reported.

Answering questions in a soft voice, Brooks revealed that payments for stories were commonplace in the cutthroat competitive world of tabloid journalism. One of the highest payments authorized by Brooks — which she first said involved 250,000 pounds but later corrected to $250,000 — was for an exclusive interview with an alleged prostitute known as Divine Brown, whose encounter with actor Hugh Grant in Los Angeles in 1995 made headlines around the world, The Associated Press reported.

“It seems so silly now but it was quite important,” she said.

AFP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Britain’s Phone Hacking Trial Hears Of Tony Blair’s Advice

By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times

LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered to act as a secret adviser to Rupert Murdoch and two of his newspaper executives as they confronted revelations of illegal phone hacking, a London jury heard Wednesday.

The disclosure — contained in an email sent by Rebekah Brooks, a former executive of News International, once the British branch of Murdoch’s News Corp. media empire, and to Murdoch’s son and deputy, James — came as prosecutors wrapped up their case against seven defendants charged in the scandal.

In the email dated July 11, 2011, Brooks said she had spent an hour on the phone with Blair, who was “available for you, KRM (Rupert Murdoch) and me as unofficial adviser, but needs to be between us.”

Brooks is one of the defendants in the trial stemming from revelations that employees at Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, which she edited, eavesdropped on the voicemails of celebrities, politicians, royalty and even a teenager who was sexually assaulted and killed. The public outcry prompted the Murdoch family to close the popular, 168-year-old Sunday paper.

Brooks faces charges that include conspiracy to intercept cellphone messages, bribery of public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by concealing evidence. Also on trial are Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor who became chief press officer to Prime Minister David Cameron, Brooks’ husband, Charlie, and other former senior editors and journalists. All the defendants deny the charges against them.

According to the email read in court Wednesday, Blair advised Brooks to set up an independent, public inquiry led by a criminal lawyer and “get them to publish a Hutton-style report,” a reference to an investigation that in 2004 cleared Blair’s government of wrongdoing in its handling of intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq War.

Blair’s advice, Brooks continued, was to “publish part one of the report at the same time as the police closes its inquiry and clear you and accept shortcomings and new solutions and process, and part two when any trials are over.”

He also advised against “short-term solutions as they only give you long-term headaches” and told Brooks: “Keep strong and definitely [take] sleeping pills.”

In a statement issued later Wednesday, Blair’s office confirmed that the conversation took place but said, “This was Mr. Blair simply giving informal advice over the phone.”

“He made it absolutely clear to Ms. Brooks that, though he knew nothing personally about the facts of the case, in a situation as serious as this it was essential to have a fully transparent and independent process to get to the bottom of what had happened,” the statement said.

“That inquiry should be led by credible people, get all the facts out there,” it continued. “If anything wrong were found, there should be immediate action taken … so that they could not happen again.”

The trial in London’s Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey, is scheduled to continue Thursday with the defense presenting its case.

Photo: JonJon2k8 via Flickr