My mistake over MPs expenses - ex-editor Rebekah Brooks

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks arrive at the Old Bailey in London
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks arrive at the Old Bailey in London
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Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks spoke of her embarrassment today at turning down the exclusive story on the MPs’ expenses scandal.

Brooks, 45, told the phone hacking trial at the Old Bailey that “in terms of errors of judgment” it was “quite high on my list”.

She also described being summoned to Downing Street over information leaked by a public official about Saddam Hussein’s plot to launch an anthrax attack on Britain.

Former Sun editor Brooks said her news team approached her about the MPs expenses “fraud” in spring 2009 - a month before the Daily Telegraph broke the story.

She said: “My news team came to me to tell me they had heard the unredacted information, to do with MPs’ expenses - for want of a better word, fraud - could be available.

“It was going to cost quite a lot of money.

“In terms of errors of judgment, probably quite high on my list.

“I thought about it for too long.

“Days would go by and I thought, ‘absolutely go for it’, then I would change my mind.

“I drove my news team crazy with my indecision.

“I should have gone ahead.

“At the time I remember it being an incredibly high price.”

Brooks, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, said the Telegraph did a “brilliant job” with the story.

She added: “It was quite embarrassing we didn’t get it.”

Brooks, who denies conspiring to hack phones, conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and conspiring to cover up evidence to pervert the course of justice, went into the witness box for her sixth day of evidence.

Brooks told the court that she authorised a payment to a public official for leaked information about a plan by former Iraqi dictator Saddam to smuggle anthrax into the UK for possible attacks.

She told the court she was deputy editor of the Sun in 1998 when the newsroom was contacted by someone alleging a “cover-up” by the security services over the alleged terror plot.

“It was very quickly brought to my attention this was a public official and he was asking for money for information,” she said.

Brooks said that, after discussions with senior journalists about the validity of the information, she authorised a journalist to “enter into an agreement with the public official if the story turned out to be true”.

“In the overwhelming public interest, this was absolutely the case,” she said.

Brooks said she was called to a meeting at Downing Street with representatives from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ before the story had been published.

“They tried to encourage us not to publish,” she said.

“It was a very brief discussion.

“The public had a right to know.”

Brooks said she agreed not to publish information which would endanger the lives of any operatives in the field.

“When I got back I authorised money to go to the public official,” she said.

The Sun ran the story and a chief petty officer was subsequently prosecuted for leaking the information after his identity was revealed, the court heard.

The court was shown a number of emails sent to Brooks from Sun journalists requesting payments for sources.

One email sent in February 2006 said a leak to the News of the World (NotW) on the Stockwell Tube station incident “cover up” - when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police - was thought to have come from former home secretary Charles Clarke.

Another email - sent in July 2005 - detailed how a police “tipster” had claimed George Michael had been stopped by police on suspicion of driving while under the influence of drink and drugs.

The popstar was formally arrested and taken to a police station where he spent “two hours in the cells” but was released without charge, it said.

The journalist told Brooks in an email that it “sounds about right”, before she replied: “Leave it with me.”

Asked by her lawyer Jonathan Laidlaw QC whether the story had involved payment to a public official, Brooks replied: “Not at all.

“Certain journalists would have police officers they were close to and have an exchange of information,” she said.

“It could be this police officer was just sick of bringing in George Michael.”

The email discussing the de Menezes shooting included a request by the journalist to pay for information after a story on “Kate Moss drug dealer being questioned”.

Brooks told the court there was “nothing to suggest this was payment to a public official”.

The email exchange ended with the journalist telling Brooks: “I’m not sure it’s wise putting this kind of thing down on email.”

Asked by Mr Laidlaw what this may have meant, Brooks replied: “It could be read both ways - ‘I don’t want to put information on a source in an email’.

“If you want to see something more could read he didn’t want this payment discussed on email.”

Another email with the subject line “Prince Harry” was sent to Brooks from a journalist during a media blackout preventing reports about the royal serving in Afghanistan.

The email, sent in December 2007, said Harry was “moved up to the front line”, adding that he “is not being kept in a back room role as my guy at first suspected he would be just to do a bit of time and get his medal”.

The email went on: “He is literally dodging the bullets and the bombs with the best of them and is right in the thick of it.”

Harry is “in a very hairy situation”, the journalist wrote.

Brooks told the court the information was for “guidance”.

An email sent in April 2006 to Brooks requested a £1,000 payment to a “guy....who worked at Sandhurst” who provided the the first picture of “cop killer Steven Graham”.

Brooks told the court she could not recall if she authorised the payment.

In March 2009 a journalist emailed Brooks about child killers Ian Huntley and Roy Whiting being interviewed by the governor of Wakefield prison.

The former editor told the jury there was “no suggestion of payment” and the source may have been another prisoner.

Today’s hearing was cut short after jurors were told Brooks was finding giving evidence “tiring” after she entered the witness box for a sixth day.

At the start of today’s hearing, Mr Justice Saunders told the jury: “I’m quite sure that you find it quite a tiring process.

“It’s even more tiring for witnesses and Mrs Brooks is finding it a very tiring process, the amount of hours in the witness box.

“Because of that we are going to finish at lunchtime in any event.”

The trial was adjourned until Monday.