Phone-hacking trial hears of sensitive Brooks-Coulson meeting

Phone-hacking trial hears of sensitive Brooks-Coulson meeting
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks arrives at the Old Bailey courthouse in central London

LONDON - Rebekah Brooks, then boss of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group, arranged to meet Andy Coulson just days before he resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief over alleged phone-hacking at the paper both had once edited, a court heard on Monday.

Brooks and Coulson are standing trial along with six other defendants who face a variety of charges relating to phone-hacking at the News of the World, illegal payments to officials for stories, and impeding police inquiries.

All eight have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The jury at the Old Bailey were shown evidence that Brooks, then chief executive of News International, had arranged to meet Coulson "somewhere discreet" on Jan. 14, 2011.

The timing is sensitive because that month, Coulson was under intense pressure to resign from his post as director of communications at Number 10 Downing Street over allegations of phone-hacking at the paper under his editorship years earlier.

Coulson did eventually resign on Jan. 21, and the police began a wide-ranging investigation into the alleged hacking, known as "Operation Weeting", on Jan. 26.

The phone-hacking scandal escalated later in 2011, causing Murdoch to shut down the News of the World and Cameron to order a public inquiry into the practices, culture and ethics of the press at which Brooks and Murdoch gave evidence.

The inquiry revealed close links between senior figures in the Murdoch press and powerful politicians including Cameron, hence the sensitivity of the meeting between his media chief and the head of News International at a time of mounting scandal.

The jury were shown an email sent from Brooks to two personal assistants including Cheryl Carter - also a defendant in the trial - and copied to Coulson's yahoo email address, instructing Carter to arrange a meeting with Coulson.

"I need to see Andy Coulson at Victoria ... somewhere discreet like a hotel," the email read.

Carter responded by suggesting the Halkin Hotel, and Coulson then wrote back: "Fine with me. Can we make it 7:45 though please." The jury were also shown an entry from Brooks' diary showing a meeting with Coulson at the Halkin Hotel on Jan. 14, as well as a message from Carter to Brooks on Jan. 31 that read: "phone call: please call Andy Coulson".

The jury heard earlier in the trial that Brooks and Coulson had had a six-year affair several years previously. There was no suggestion that the hotel meeting was in any way related to that.

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