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British phone-hacking trial shown footage of alleged Brooks' cover-up

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey courthouse in London January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Win
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey courthouse in London January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Win

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - The trial of Rebekah Brooks, who ran Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper arm, was shown film footage on Tuesday of what the prosecution alleges was her husband's attempt to hide evidence from police investigating accusations of phone-hacking.

The day Brooks was first quizzed by police, and before her home was searched, prosecutors say her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, hid a laptop and a bag behind a bin in an underground parking lot of their plush London apartment block where it was picked up by the Brooks's security team.

After the police completed a search, the security team returned with a bag and left it in the car park. Prosecutors say the plan went awry because a cleaner then found the material and it was given to the police.

News International, the British newspaper division of Murdoch's News Corp, became engulfed in the police inquiry in 2011 after it was alleged journalists had hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl amongst others.

Both Charlie and Rebekah Brooks deny conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by hiding material from detectives. Brooks also denies conspiracy to hack phones and authorizing illegal payments to public officials.

The closed circuit television (CCTV) footage shown to the jury captured Charlie Brooks emerging from a doorway clutching a bag and a laptop on July 17, 2011, at about the same time his wife, who had quit as News International boss days earlier, was heading to a police station where she would be arrested.

After looking around, he disappeared from view and less than a minute later, the CCTV film showed him returning empty-handed.

On Tuesday, the jury at London's Old Bailey court saw Mark Hanna, the ex-head of security at News International, arriving at the car park about two hours later and phone records indicated he had been in regular contact with Charlie Brooks.

He disappeared out of camera shot, to the same area where Brooks had been earlier, returning with a brown bag and other material, before driving away. Hanna also denies a charge of perverting the course of justice.

PIZZA BOXES

At about 3 p.m., seven detectives arrived and after a search of the apartment - but not the car park area - lasting some two hours, they left holding sealed bags with computers and other possessions.

Brooks then contacted Hanna, and shortly after 9:30 p.m., following a flurry of calls between the security team, one arrived at the car park. He gave another man two pizza boxes, removed a large black bag from the car and also vanished from view to the garbage area before returning empty-handed.

"Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Pizza delivered and the chicken is in the pot," the security contractor wrote in a text message to a colleague, prosecutor Mark Bryant-Heron told the court. The Broadsword phrase was a reference to the film "Where Eagles Dare", which starred Richard Burton as a British spy.

However, the following day, while the couple went to their lawyer's office, a cleaner discovered the black bag, the court heard. On their return, a baffled-looking Charlie Brooks and their security team were seen searching in vain for the bag.

The court heard an employee at the apartment block had contacted police and handed over a brown briefcase and a black laptop to officers.

William Geddes, whose security firm had been employed to protect Brooks from media intrusion and the "considerable degree of risk from rogue individuals", told the court he had been contacted about the concerns that her husband's property had gone missing.

He said his team had dubbed it "pizzagate", and the court heard an operative later sent him a text message which read: "Filth (police) all over the underground car park ref pizzagate. Mark is aware".

The trial of Hanna, Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, and that of four others, is expected to last until at least April.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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