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29 February 2024

UK phone-hacking trial: Blair advises Murdoch


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered to work as an unofficial adviser to Rupert Murdoch as revelations of illegal phone hacking engulfed the mogul's media empire, according to an email made public Wednesday at the trial of several former Murdoch lieutenants.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis read aloud an email sent by Rebekah Brooks, then chief executive of Murdoch's British newspapers, to Murdoch's son and deputy James on July 11, 2011.

In it, Brooks said she had spent an hour on the phone with Blair, who had told her: "It will pass. Tough up."

She said he told her to "keep strong and definitely (take) sleeping pills."

Brooks also wrote that Blair "is available for you, KRM (Rupert Murdoch) and me as an unofficial adviser, but needs to be between us."

She said Blair suggested Murdoch's company set up an external committee into phone hacking, which would "publish a Hutton-style report." The 2004 Hutton Report cleared Blair's government of wrongdoing over its handling of intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Blair was Britain's leader between 1997 and 2007, winning three consecutive elections. Since leaving office he has become a highly paid, globe-trotting consultant to corporations and governments, a public speaker and a Middle East envoy for the international Quartet.He remains dogged by criticism of his decision to take Britain into the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Brooks, who was chief executive of Murdoch's News International when the hacking scandal erupted, was close to Blair and to the current prime minister, David Cameron.

Blair's office confirmed that the conversation with Brooks took place, but said Blair was "simply giving informal advice over the phone."

In a statement, Blair's office said he had stressed to Brooks that "it was essential to have a fully transparent and independent process to get to the bottom of what had happened."

Six days after sending the email, on July 17, 2011, Brooks was arrested. She was charged with conspiring to hack phones, bribe officials and obstruct a police investigation.

She and six others are on trial on charges stemming from the revelation that News of the World employees eavesdropped on the voicemails of celebrities, politicians, sports figures, royalty and even crime victims. Murdoch closed the 168-year-old tabloid amid a wave of public outrage, and the scandal expanded to ensnare Britain's establishment — exposing a cozy web of ties between powerful politicians, senior police and media executives.

All defendants deny the charges against them.

Judge John Saunders said the defense case would open Thursday after a series of legal arguments Wednesday. The trial, which began in October, is due to run at least until May. The key points so far:


Prosecutors allege that News of the World journalists, with consent from top editors, colluded to hack phones on a vast scale in a frenzy to get scoops. They say this happened when Brooks edited the newspaper from 2000 to 2003, and under editor Andy Coulson from 2003 to 2007. Coulson, who became Cameron's communications chief, is also on trial.

The defense does not dispute that hacking took place. Three former News of the World news editors have pleaded guilty, as has Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator employed by the newspaper.

It's the scale that is striking. A police witness told the court he found evidence that the News of the World hacked the phone accounts of 282 people 6,813 times. Mulcaire was paid about 100,000 pounds (now about $168,000) a year — largely, prosecutors say, for his phone-hacking prowess.

Jurors heard about efforts to hack the telephones of Prince Harry, Kate Middleton and royal aides, as well as of senior politicians and celebrities including Paul McCartney.

The defense will try to convince jurors that Brooks and Coulson were unaware of the practice, and that as busy editors they were not individually responsible for every story.


Several celebrities whose private lives were exposed by the tabloids have already testified in the trial. Actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller recounted how their relationship — and Miller's fling with Daniel Craig — became headline news.

The private lives of Brooks and Coulson also made the front pages, when prosecutors revealed that the pair had a secret six-year affair covering a period when hacking took place. Prosecutor Andrew Edis said he was not seeking to be salacious, but disclosed details of their relationship to show that "what Mr. Coulson knew, Mrs. Brooks knew too."


At times the evidence had touches of a spy film — or a farce.

Prosecutors used phone records, recovered emails and security-camera footage to reconstruct the day before Brooks' arrest in 2011, when they say Brooks, her husband Charles and others conspired to hide notebooks, computers and other evidence from police.

A security man hid some of the items in a garbage bag behind trash bins in the parking garage at the couple's London apartment. He then sent a text to his superior — adapting a quote from the war movie "Where Eagles Dare" — that read, "Broadsword calling Danny Boy: The pizza is delivered and the chicken is in the pot."

A cleaner found the stashed items and handed them to police.