Prosecutors Press Case In 'News Of The World' Phone-Tapping Trial

At the Old Bailey Courthouse in London Wednesday, the prosecution laid out the case against former journalists of the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World.

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Over the last couple of years, the News of the World phone hacking scandal has shaken Rupert Murdoch's media empire. In Britain, it's led to a public inquiry into media ethics and some controversial government proposals to regulate the press. Several of Murdoch's former senior executives are on trial in London, accused of crimes that were uncovered by police investigating the hacking affair.

The accused include Rebekah Brooks, who headed Murdoch's U.K. newspaper division, and Andy Coulson, for a while Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief. Both were editors of the News of the World, Murdoch's Sunday tabloid that was closed as a result of the scandal.

NPR's Philip Reeves is covering the trial in London and joins us now. And, Phil, let's start with what we learned today about the cases against Brooks and Coulson. First, Brooks.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, we learnt really that the prosecution is arguing that phone hacking started at the News of the World when Rebekah Brooks took over as editor in the year 2000, and that it continued when she left to go and edit another Rupert Murdoch tabloid, The Sun, which is still publishing. They're a best-selling newspaper. She went and edited that.

Andy Coulson took over, and the prosecution is arguing that hacking continued on his watch, too. And they're basically asking, did they know about it? Remember, this is a conspiracy to hack phones, which means that the hacking didn't have to be done by them but it had to be done with their agreement, if it is to be a successful prosecution on that charge, one of several they're facing.

And the prosecuting counsel, the lead counsel for the crown, Andrew Edis, told the jury, you know, they got to make their mind up. How much did the management of the News of the World know what was going on at that paper? And he said, the News of the World is a Sunday newspaper. It wasn't "War and Peace." It's not an enormous document.

It's the size of something that, if you were editor, you can take an interest in what was going into its pages. And its argument, therefore, is that they knew very well that there was hacking and it was routine at the News of the World newspaper.

SIEGEL: So the prosecution says that that began under Rebekah Brooks at News of the World, continued under Andy Coulson at News of the World. But the case, I gather, also involves hacking that went on at the other big Murdoch tabloid, the one that's still around, as you said, The Sun.

REEVES: Well, it does involve The Sun, and I think that's one of the interesting things to emerge from today's opening statement by the prosecution. But that really focuses on charges of conspiracy to make payments to public officials, including, in one case, a senior official from the Ministry of Defense. And the prosecution is arguing that when she was editing The Sun, Rebekah Brooks signed off and authorized significant payments to that person who was handing stories, scoops, to a reporter from The Sun.

Andy Coulson is also charged with the same offense, which it's alleged, he committed when he was editing the News of the World. And that focuses on quite a gripping story told by the prosecution about how Clive Goodman, the royal editor of the News of the World - also on trial on this case - wanted some royal telephone directories. So he told Coulson, according to the prosecution, that he needed to get them from the police who work especially for the royal household, and that Coulson authorized that.

And these phonebooks were useful not only for hacking purposes, the prosecution says, but because they contain lots of information about landlines and addresses. You can use them to call the phone companies and convince them to give you a password, which will allow you to hack. So these are aspects of the case that have come out today that I think are quite interesting.

SIEGEL: We should note that the royal editor of a British tabloid is in charge of the coverage of the royals. He's not a royal himself, he just observed.

(LAUGHTER)

REEVES: No, he's not a royal.

SIEGEL: What happens next in this trial?

REEVES: Well, next we will hear more from the prosecution outlining the broad contours of their case. That hasn't finished. And that, I think, will occupy a great deal of the remaining part of this week.

SIEGEL: OK, Phil. That's NPR's Philip Reeves in London. Thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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