- RUPERT MURDOCH’S controversial Chief Executive allegedly made unlawful request.
- BROOKS ALLEGEDLY ordered ‘flight blag.’
- SHE IS ALSO ACCUSED at the High Court of giving ‘false’ evidence about private investigators to the Leveson Inquiry.
- BROOKS WAS TRYING to track down Michael Barrymore whist he was on holiday.
- ILLEGALLY OBTAINED INFORMATION was allegedly published in a story to ‘fill column inches.’
AN EMAIL FIRST published by this news site has become key evidence against Rupert Murdoch’s most controversial Chief Executive.
In June 2017, Byline Investigates ran a story about a message in which Rebekah Brooks allegedly requested a ‘blag’ on an airline.
We exclusively revealed how Brooks directly ordered journalists to allegedly break the law for a story.
The bombshell evidence allegedly contradicts years of denials of wrongdoing by the News UK boss.
The court also heard that Rebekah Brooks allegedly gave ‘false’ evidence to the Leveson Inquiry – an offence punishable by 51 weeks in jail under the Inquiries Act (2005).
Brooks told the Public Inquiry a decade ago that she did not use private investigators unless to track down paedophiles in the public interest.
However, yesterday in the High Court the issues were raised once more, when email was cited again in a bid to investigate the allegations further.
Claimants suing Murdoch’s publisher News Group Newspaper requested a judge to grant them further disclosure of documents.
Brooks’ instruction in the email allegedly referred to using fraud to obtain Michael Barrymore’s private travel information – and led to an exclusive front-page story in the News of the World about the 69-year-old performer.
According to barrister David Sherborne, the email strongly suggested that a freelance photographic agency called Cruise Pictures – working for the News of the World – ‘was involved in obtaining flight information by deception.’
‘Indeed,’ he went on, ‘Ms Brooks explicitly refers to trying to ‘blag’ information from “ba and air Mauritius”, which can only be a reference to obtaining such information by deception as flight details about whether an individual boarded a flight would not be lawfully available to journalists.’
Mrs Brooks, 53, 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, 53, get 18 months’ jail for the crime.
However, the allegations surrounding the email are significant because 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, which was read out in court.
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 allegedly trying to track down Mr Barrymore 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: ‘maybe cruise (a picture agency) can tell us which flight he got on..? or we try blag it out of ba (British Airways) and air Mauritius…’
Ms 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 allegedly set in train a sequence of events that involved unlawful information gathering, which was nothing whatsoever to do with paedophiles.
The alleged activities were paid for by Mrs Brooks’ newspaper, although she has previously denied knowledge of the reasons for any such payments.
The court heard how Mrs Brooks’ order in the email was passed along the News of The World chain-of-command allegedly to Mr Mulcaire, who executed her request, via his ‘handler’ Greg Miskiw – the News Editor at the paper, who was later convicted of phone hacking.
In a legal document, David Sherborne added: ‘This email from Ms Brooks triggered a storm of unlawful information gathering at the time, as evidenced by the witness statements of Mr Barrymore and Greg Miskiw.
‘As Mr Barrymore explains, there was a News of the World article on Sunday 22 September 2002 spanning five pages, including the front page, and referring to the paper having ‘tracked’ Mr Barrymore to Mauritius and explains in detail the route that he had taken from England to Mauritius. Mr Barrymore also explains that he had already arrived in Mauritius by the time the email was sent by Ms Brooks.’
NGN opposed the application to get disclosure about Cruise Pictures.
The defence barrister for NGN argued ‘scale’, saying that there had already been 100,000s of documents disclosed to the court, costing millions of pounds – born by NGN – and therefore there was no need for more.
Anthony Hudson QC said it would be ‘disproportionate’ to search for the Cruise Pictures’ payments at this ‘late stage’ at the ‘tail end of the litigation.’
Mr Hudson also argued that Cruise Pictures was not in the category of private investigator firm, and therefore the proposed search was ‘not relevant’ to the litigation.
He said: ‘Cruise Pictures is a picture agency and there is no evidence that they are a private investigator firm…… It is not pleaded as a private investigator. It is not pleaded as an entity engaged in unlawful information gathering (UIG.)’
He also emphasised ‘lateness’ again, saying that the Claimants had been aware of Cruise Pictures since 2016, and ‘it wasn’t right’ that the Claimants said that they had only recently found out about them, and were asking for documents now.
He didn’t understand why the Claimants had said they had only recently become aware, because ‘the email about Rebekah Brooks was disclosed in September 2016…’
Mr Hudson continued: ‘They’ve had it for almost five years…
‘The email has been referred to in at least three witness statements…
‘Not only have they had the email…. but the reference to “cruise” was identified in at least September 2017, and was referred to in Geoff Webster’s statement of the 5th of December 2017…
‘It was then referred to in Mr Barrymore’s statement….
‘Then the second witness statement of Mr. Miskiw of January 2019.’
Of the email itself, Mr Hudson disputed the meaning of Ms Brooks’ message.
He said the meaning…‘did not support…that it was clear evidence that the Cruise Picture agency was engaged in UIG.
‘The “blag” reference in that email is clearly about someone else, not Cruise.
‘There is no basis for that in this email.
‘Information can be obtained lawfully, unlawfully, or in a grey area.
‘There is nothing in this email….
‘There is no evidence that Cruise Pics were anything other than a picture agency.
‘That it’s not appropriate… You can’t simply say that someone was a PI and make them a PI.’
He said that picture agencies would have people at airports.
Mr Hudson said the searches would be very expensive, and estimated £13,500, which was a significant amount of money in the context of the other arguments.
The email emerged as a result of previous hearings 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 messages.
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 or does not admit all allegations of wrongdoing at The Sun.