Brooks, Cameron discussed hacking
David Cameron signed off messages to former tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks with an affectionate "LOL", she told the Leveson Inquiry today.
The revelation will be a further embarrassment to the British prime minister, who has been accused of cosying up to Rupert Murdoch’s empire both before and after his election.
The former Sun and News of the World editor also revealed she was commiserated by Mr Cameron after she resigned as News International chief executive over the phone hacking scandal.
Mrs Brooks said the indirect messages from Mr Cameron were “along the lines” of “keep your head up” and had also expressed regret that he could not be more loyal in public.
She also received sympathetic messages from other senior figures in the Conservative Party and some Labour politicians, including Tony Blair.
The glimpse of Mrs Brooks’s network of high-powered friends and contacts came as she took to the witness box, despite being under investigation by police.
Mrs Brooks said she only had access to around six weeks of texts and emails from her time as NI chief executive, from the beginning of June to July 17th last year.
Robert Jay QC, counsel for the inquiry, asked Mrs Brooks about reports that she had received sympathetic messages after her resignation last July.
“I had some indirect messages from some politicians but nothing direct,” she replied. “A variety - some Tories a couple of Labour politicians. Very few Labour politicians. I received some indirect messages from Number 10, Number 11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office...”
A screengrab of Rebekah Brooks giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry
She said Mr Blair had been among them but former prime minister Gordon Brown had not. “He was probably getting the bunting out,” she added, provoking laughter in the courtroom.
Questioned on whether reports were correct that Mr Cameron’s message had urged her to “keep your head up”, Ms Brooks responded: “Along those lines.”
Pressed on whether the prime minister had also conveyed regret that political circumstances meant he could not be more “loyal”, Mrs Brooks replied: “Similar, but very indirect.”
After she became editor of the Sun, in which she admitted Rupert Murdoch had a hand, she spoke to the mogul “frequently”, Mrs Brooks said. She revealed that the tycoon “liked X Factor”, despite arguing for coverage of serious issues over celebrity, and also quashed a rumour that the pair used to swim together when he was in London.
Mrs Brooks also denied that, after she was arrested in 2005 over an alleged assault on her then-husband Ross Kemp, Mr Murdoch sent a dress to the police station where she was being held. She was later released without charge and the police took no further action.
The inquiry heard that Mr Blair attended a surprise party thrown for Mrs Brooks by Mr Murdoch, but she said she could not remember whether Mr Cameron was there, though it was possible he was.
She told the inquiry she met Mr Blair in 1995 after he became leader of the Labour Party, and their meetings became more frequent throughout his decade as premier. They met formally, informally and socially, and often spoke on the telephone, she said, admitting they became “friendly”.
But she said there were no emails or texts because “he did not have a mobile phone or in fact I think use a computer when he was prime minister”.
Mrs Brooks dismissed reports that Mr Cameron would text her 12 times a day. “No, thankfully,” she said. “I have read this as well, 12 times a day. It is preposterous.
“I would text Mr Cameron, and vice-versa on occasion, like a lot of people. Probably more between January 2010 and maybe during the election campaign," she said. “He would sign them off DC, in the main. Occasionally he would sign them off ‘lol’, lots of love. Until I told him it meant ‘laugh out loud’.”
Asked whether she had discussed the phone-hacking scandal with Mr Cameron between details emerging of pay-offs to victims in July 2009 and her resignation in 2011, Mrs Brooks said: “I think on occasion and not very often. So maybe once or twice because the phone-hacking story was sort of a constant or it kept coming up.
“We would bring it up but in the most general terms ... Maybe in 2010 we had a more specific conversation about it.”
Pressed for more information on the conversation, Mrs Brooks replied: “It was to do with the amount of civil cases coming in around 2010 and we had a conversation about that...
“It was a general discussion about, I think it had been in the news that day and I think I explained the story behind the news.”
Asked whether Mr Cameron’s interest was related to the position of his then-spin doctor Andy Coulson, Mrs Brooks said: “No.”
Mr Coulson (44), a former News of the World editor, became Downing Street’s communications chief in May 2010 but quit eight months later, saying controversy over the hacking scandal was making his job impossible.
Mrs Brooks was also questioned about Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take full control of BSkyB, and said she knew of it a “couple of months” before it was made public in June 2010.
Asked if she discussed the issue with Mr Cameron at the dinner at her home in December 2010, she said it was mentioned because it was in the news after business secretary Vince Cable was reported to be promising to “declare war” on Mr Murdoch. The incident led to Mr Cable handing over responsibility for deciding whether to allow the bid to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. It was later dropped.
“I may have mentioned it to Mr Cameron but it is not to be dwelled on because it wasn’t a particularly long conversation,” she said.
She had a “three-minute conversation” on the topic with Mr Osborne at dinner in December 2010. “I put my views that were contrary to the ones that he had heard from everyone else,” she added.
The following day Mrs Brooks emailed News Corporation public affairs executive Fred Michel saying that Mr Osborne had expressed “total bafflement” at Ofcom’s latest response to the bid.Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks leaves after giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in London. Photograph: Stefan Wermut/Reuters
Mrs Brooks spoke about the Sun’s decision to back the Tories at the 2010 general election, saying she had tried to get hold of Mr Brown at the September 2009 Labour conference the night before the paper was due to declare its support.
“Mr Brown and his wife were due to come to the News International party that night and I wanted to get hold of them,” she said.
Mrs Brooks eventually spoke to Lord Mandelson, who seemed “quite angry but not surprised”.
She told of an “extraordinarily aggressive” conversation with Mr Brown the following month. “I remember it quite clearly because it was in response to the Sun splash on a letter that Gordon Brown had written to a bereaved mother whose son had died in Afghanistan. He had had some spelling mistakes or got the wrong name or something but the Sun had been particularly harsh to him about it.
“He rang me... it was a private conversation but the tone of it was very aggressive. Quite rightly, he was hurt by the (presentation) and the headline that had been put on the story.”
Mrs Brooks said she reassured the then-prime minister that the coverage had been a “mistake”, and did not reflect the attitude the Sun would be taking to him.
Rupert Murdoch told the inquiry last month that Mr Brown telephoned him after the switch in allegiance to the Tories and promised to “declare war” on his business empire. Mr Brown has denied the claim.
Mrs Brooks also denied hacking into medical records to discover that Mr Brown’s son Fraser had cystic fibrosis. Instead, the information came from a source connected to a charity for the condition.
Mr Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry last July in response to revelations that the now-defunct News of the World hacked murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone after she disappeared in 2002.
The first part of the inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press in general and is due to produce a report by October.