Judge Slams Media in Phonetapping Case

By Stephen Mahon

The jury in the Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson trial at the Old Bailey have been told to disregard online and printed satire concerning the pair.

Mr Justice John Saunders outlined the importance of both receiving a fair hearing, but acknowledged that it would be hard for the jury, with the headlines and speculation surrounding the ex News of the World editors since the phonetapping accusations first came to light.

The pair are accused of conspiring to illegally access voicemail messages on mobile phones belonging to actors, politicians and victims of crime.  The News of the Worl was closed down by Rupert Murdoch shortly after it had emerged that missing schoolgirl Millie Dowler’s voicemail had been hacked.

Speaking on the eve of the trial, Justice Saunders made particular reference to this week’s edition of Private Eye magazine which depicts Rebekah Brooks on the front cover.  “Private Eye has seen fit today to put out their November edition…it bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover,” he said.

“It is meant to be satire. You ignore it; it has no serious input and it is not relevant to your considerations.”

Mr Justice Saunders delivered detailed instructions to the jury of nine women and three men at London’s Old Bailey after they were sworn in yesterday, warning them to consider the case only on the evidence and arguments presented in court. He was also critical of the treatment the former  editors had received online, with much made of Rebekah Brooks’ friendship with Prime Minister David Cameron and other high profile acquaintances.  Justice Saunders issued hardline controls on avoiding social media during the case.  Failing to adhere to these guidelines could result in contempt of court proceedings against the jury.

“The internet is generally not controlled and often fuelled by opinion and speculation, a great deal of information is imparted and received by people through Facebook and Twitter.

“A significant amount of publicity has been inaccurate and misleading… offensive and demeaning to some of the defendants. A lot is ill-informed and most of it is abusive.”

Ms Brooks and Mr Coulson are charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept communications and Ms Brooks is also accused of two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, and two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by hampering a police inquiry.

Mr Coulson is additionally charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

A total of eight ex News International employees are due before the jury and all remain on bail as the case resumes. The trial is expected to last six months.

The prosecution is due to start it’s case later today.

Rebekah Brooks: Trial starts today