Byline Exclusive: Rebekah Brooks’ Smoking Gun Email – Evidence That News UK Chief Ordered Illegal Michael Barrymore Data Blag
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
REBEKAH Brooks directly ordered journalists to break the law for a story, according to revelatory new email evidence that contradicts years of denials of wrongdoing by the News UK Chief Executive.
Byline Investigations has obtained the email – unseen by jurors during Mrs Brooks’ 2014 criminal trial for phone hacking – in which she tells senior staff to “blag” the confidential data of entertainer Michael Barrymore.
The instruction refers to using fraud to obtain Mr Barrymore’s private travel information – and led to an exclusive front-page story in the News of the World that also involved identity theft and hacking of the 65-year-old performer’s phone.
Mrs Brooks, 49, has always denied knowing of any such illegal activity, and was acquitted of intercepting voicemails in a seven-month trial at the Old Bailey that saw her former Deputy Andy Coulson, 49, get 18 months’ jail for the crime.
It is the first time Mrs Brooks has been linked to prolific phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire – the private investigator of whom she insists she had no knowledge while Editor – by a chain of evidence.
And last night, in a further development for News UK’s owner Rupert Murdoch, whose planned £11.7bn takeover of BSkyB by 21st Century Fox is being scrutinised by Ofcom, Mr Barrymore (pictured below) confirmed he might take legal action over the revelations.
“I am shocked at these allegations and I am grateful to Byline for bringing them to my attention,” he said. “I will seek legal advice.”
Mrs Brooks sent the email in September 2002 – when she was editing the former market-leading Sunday tabloid – to Head of Pictures Geoff Webster and Associate Editor Phil Taylor, both of whom reported to her directly.
At the time, the paper was trying to track down Mr Barrymore – who is currently suing Essex Police for £2.5m for wrongful arrest – following an inquest into the death of Stuart Lubbock, at which he had been a key witness.
In the email, Mrs Brooks – then Rebekah Wade – wrote:
Mrs Brooks has always claimed to be unaware of illegal practices at her papers, blaming such abuses on underlings.
In 2006, she told the Press Complaints Commission that her journalists always “work within the law” and that “subterfuge was only allowed in stories such as arms dealing or child abuse”.
However, her 2002 email set in train a sequence of events that Byline Investigations has learned involved not only blagging, but the even more serious offences of phone hacking and identity cloning – all paid for by Mrs Brooks’ newspaper, although she denies knowledge of the reasons for any such payments.
Mrs Brooks’ order was passed along the News of The World chain-of-command to Mr Mulcaire, who executed her request.
The document has only now emerged as a result of fresh legal action at the High Court in London by claimants alleging phone hacking against The Sun newspaper, as well as the News of the World, as a result of which News UK is being forced to hand over hitherto unseen emails.
Coincidentally, in the same legal action, Mr Webster – himself acquitted of conspiring to bribe public officials at the Old Bailey in 2015 while Deputy Editor of the Sun – has been named separately in an alleged conspiracy to hack phones at the paper.
Lawyers acting for alleged victims of phone hacking at The Sun claim he knew about the hacking of the phone of Fiona Mills, sister of Heather Mills-McCartney, in 2006.
News UK denies all allegations of wrongdoing at The Sun.
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