Anatomy of a ‘cover up’ – Breaking down Rebekah Brooks’ ‘phone hacking’ alibis

  • RUPERT Murdoch’s top UK executive is being sued personally over claims of spying on her ex-husband Ross Kemp and love rivals
  • WE HAVE been covering the cases of Tony Harding vs Rebekah Brooks and Jamelah May vs Rebekah Brooks in ongoing civil actions at the High Court in London
  • MS BROOKS denies knowingly commissioning illegal activity from notorious private detective Steve Whittamore, but;
  • A SPECIAL analysis shows Ms Brooks has now given different evidence to courts and Parliament seven times, as we:
  • REVEAL her contradictions and confusing statements about illegal private investigators in this ongoing series of reports

TODAY we continue unravelling the evidence Rupert Murdoch’s most senior UK employee Rebekah Brooks has given to allegations of involvement in illegal newsgathering over a 17-year period.

In the latest part of this special series we are re-visiting the testimony the sitting Chief Executive of News UK has given about her use and knowledge of illegal private investigation (PI) services while ascending to the top of World media.

And we are comparing that evidence to the explanations the 51-year-old is currently giving through her lawyers in separate cases brought by Doncaster handyman Tony Harding and former Page 3 model Jamelah May at the High Court in London.

Complainant : Former  Page 3  model Jamelah May
Complainant: Former Page 3 model Jamelah May

In the two ongoing cases, it is claimed that Brooks personally commissioned the country’s most notorious unlawful private detective Steve Whittamore to obtain personal private phone information of her ex-husband, actor Ross Kemp and his associates.

Brooks has always denied ever knowingly using illegal surveillance services for any reason save the tracing of paedophiles, as part of a controversial ‘Sarah’s Law’ public disclosure campaign she ran while editing the News of the World in 2000, which she claimed could be defended as being in the public interest.

But, the claimants in the current legal cases, Harding and May are both normal members of the public.


In the previous instalment of this series, Byline Investigates revealed how Brooks made inconsistent comments about PIs to the UK’s Parliament, industry self-regulator the Press Complaints Commission, and the House of Lords between 2003 and 2011.

Here, we continue the timeline of inaccurate statements – made both by Brooks and by her employers on her behalf – between 2009 and 2011 to questions about the PIs and specialist data thieves called ‘blaggers’ used routinely on Fleet Street between 1995 and 2010.


ON JULY 10, 2009, Rupert Murdoch’s company responded to a story in The Guardian newspaper by journalist Nick Davies who alleged, in what would become an award-winning expose published two days earlier, the News of the World tabloid was tapping private mobile phones to get stories and buying the silence of victims.

At the time, Brooks was editor of The Sun but it had been announced in June that year that in September she would become Chief Executive of publisher News International.

In a clear and unequivocal statement, a spokesperson for News International (now rebranded News UK) said: “It is untrue that “Murdoch journalists” used private investigators to illegally hack into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures [or] to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including: tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills.”

I need you to go to Doncaster. In 2001 I requested a mobile conversion… with steve whittamore private detective. The mobile conversion found the phone belonged to Anthony Harding

— email from Rebekah Brooks to Sun Managing Editor Graham Dudman

But it was the statement that turned out to be untrue – and evidence to show that quickly emerged.

On the same day, The Guardian was informing Harding that his name had appeared in the records of a private investigator working for the News of the World under the editorship of Brooks (nee Wade).

Mr Harding now alleges that the records in fact revealed he had been the target of an unlawful ‘mobile conversion’ commissioned by Brooks.

It is claimed the purpose of the commission – which involved illegally identifying the registrant subscriber of a mobile phone number account – was for Brooks to spy on her partner Kemp, and his private life.

The Guardian’s interview was recently raised by Brooks in Defence papers lodged in the Harding High Court legal action.

The document states: “At the time of the Interview, The Guardian was conducting an investigation into the use of private investigators by the News of the World to conduct ‘mobile conversions’ colloquially known as ‘phone-hacking’. 

But sources close to the legal action have identified an unsubtle ‘sleight of hand’ in this careful phrasing.

One said: “This is a curious statement because no one considers that mobile phone conversions [obtaining the details of the phone’s owner from the company] is phone hacking, which is widely known [and accepted] in the civil courts of England and Wales as meaning voicemail interception.

“The Guardian was of course conducting an investigation into voicemail interception, and not mobile conversions. This deliberate confusion could cast her case in a better light.”


AS THE phone hacking scandal continued to erupt in 2009, Ms Brooks began claiming that she only used private investigators to track down convicted paedophiles during her controversial ‘For Sarah’ campaign, which ran between June and August 4, 2000.

However, in her defence against Mr Harding, she insists she never “asserted” he was a child sex-offender, while insisting she “did not unlawfully gather” his confidential  information.

The legal document states: “The Defendant (Ms Brooks) has never asserted in response to questioning that her actions in respect of the [Harding] Number related to the Sarah’s Law campaign (“the Campaign”) or that the Claimant was or was suspected of being a paedophile.

However, it can revealed that – less than a week after The Guardian’s story in 2009 – Brooks was “pretty sure” her investigations into Mr Harding were related to her paper’s anti-paedophile campaign, which might have allowed her to rely on a journalistic ‘public interest’ defence to the intrusion.

At the time, Brooks was preparing for a grilling from MPs on the House of Commons Culture Media and Sports Select Committee interested in the then emerging allegations of endemic criminal newsgathering at the news titles she oversaw.

Indeed, Brooks was so concerned about the emerging evidence of Steve Whittamore’s work on Harding [which she knew the Select Committee had been given] she instructed The Sun’s Managing Editor Graham Dudman – a trusted lieutenant who contemporaries say was seldom seen out of his office – to personally travel to Doncaster to further investigate Mr Harding.

In an email to Mr Dudman of July 16, 2009, she wrote: “I need you to go to Doncaster. In 2001 I requested a mobile conversion and two directors searches and an occupancy search with steve whittamore private detective.

“The mobile conversion found the phone belonged to Anthony Harding, [address removed] Doncaster.

“I then did two directors searches on antony harding and an occupancy.

“I am pretty sure it would be sarahs law but I can’t be certain. 

“The mobile doesn’t work now but if you google the info the cycle shop owned a mr harding still exists. The select committee have this info but I do not know how to find out why I did this? And obviously need to be discreet about it.”

Legal:  The Royal Courts of Justice in London (inset) The Rolls Building, where Harding and May have filed their claims against Brooks
Legal: The Royal Courts of Justice in London (inset) The Rolls Building, where Harding and May have filed their claims against Brooks

In her Defence document, Brooks’ lawyers accept Mr Whittamore provided information apparently obtained as a result of an occupancy search and a director search’ – neither of which is necessarily unlawful – but they deny that Brooks specifically asked for these searches.

Her Defence added: “The Defendant [Brooks] did not commission Mr Whittamore to carry out any specific searches but merely instructed him to conduct an investigation with a view to identifying the subscriber to the Number.”

And then comes detail of Brooks’ different version of events.

The Defence states: “It is averred that at the point in time when she asked Mr Dudman to engage in the said investigations, the Defendant had not remembered [emphasis added] that she had commissioned an investigation into the Number for her own private reasons, as described above.”

 “It is admitted that Mr Dudman’s investigation found no basis for linking the investigation of the Number to the Sarah’s Law Campaign. It is denied that the allegations concerning Mr Dudman’s investigation are relevant to the instant claim.”

Seven months later, on February 2, 2010, the Culture Media and Sports Select Committee wrote to Brooks and asked why she tasked Mr Whittamore to target Tony Harding’s phone with a ‘mobile conversion’.

The question was: “Please explain the circumstances around the ‘mobile conversion’ of telephone number [Anthony Harding’s number] made by you [Rebekah Brooks] as part of the Information Commissioner’s inquiry. Was a public interest test applied and, if so, what were the grounds?’

Brooks wrote back, this time seeming to suggest such unlawful private investigation – which according to Mr Whittamore himself was nearly always carried out illegally using deception or corrupt telecoms company insiders – was actually carried out by a simple ‘web search’.

She said: “This was nine years ago and I cannot recall why I required this particular conversion. You should note that “conversion”… is often carried out by through perfectly legitimate means such as a web search.”

Brooks did not explain why she herself had been unable to perform such a web search, and commissioned a specialist PI who was later convicted of data protection offences to do so.

On July 7, 2011, a spokeswoman for News International told the New York Times there was in fact a single request by Brooks of Mr Whittamore, and that “there was nothing to suggest that any information was retrieved using illegal methods.”

This statement was also wrong and inaccurate, as will be revealed in Part 5 of this special report.

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