Ian Burrell, the Independent’s media editor, provides further insight into the close relationship between Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both former News of the World editors and both caught up in the ongoing phone-hacking affair.
He discusses Brooks’ 2003 admission to MPs that the paper had illegally paid police officers for information. Eight years on and this week Brooks has denied knowledge of specific payments.
I was there that day in March 2003 and saw Brooks (then Rebekah Wade) arrive in apparent high spirits, joking with Coulson and Piers Morgan, editor of the rival Daily Mirror but an old friend. All three had sat in the editor’s chair at the News of the World. All three would tell MPs that press regulation was working just fine. Morgan said tabloid reporters had not been so well behaved in 15 years; Brooks that the PCC had “changed the culture in every newsroom in the land”.
Then she admitted paying the police. Ian Hargreaves, a former editor of the Financial Times, later commented that she had “clip-clopped into a big hole in the ground”. Her error seemed borne of a lack of experience in the political arena and intoxication with the power of the tabloid press in which she had spent her working life (she tried to put MP Chris Bryant in his place by reminding him she had 10 million readers).
With two more of Coulson’s senior staff being arrested by police and one of them sacked by NI, his previous claim to have been let down by a single rogue reporter is thoroughly discredited.
MPs, including Bryant, are furious that, eight years on, they still haven’t been told the truth about tabloid intrusion. The Operation Weeting team, investigating phone hacking, wants to speak to Brooks about NI’s past behaviour. Those inseparable pals, Rebekah and Andy, both remain in the gun sights – and this time neither seems capable of pulling the other out of the line of fire.